Sheriff’s deputies have rounded up 22 of the 28 suspects indicted Wednesday for engaging in organized crime – becoming the second alleged drug ring with connections to the Florida-to-Franklin County pill pipeline.
Over 12 months this ring imported about 36,000 pills – with a total street value of more than $900,000 – into Franklin County, Sheriff Pat Melton said during a press conference Thursday.
“It’s very, very significant,” Melton said. “It’s a large-scale operation, folks. Anytime you’ve got approximately 3,000 pills per month coming into your community, that’s a lot.”
The six-month investigation, dubbed “Operation Untouchables,” uncovered the second prescription pill “corporation” run by a “CEO” and “chief financial officer,” who planned, directed and funded trips to Florida pain clinics to get pills to sell in Franklin County.
Within four months, 52 area suspects have been indicted for engaging in organized crime with connections to the pill pipeline.
“Going to a doctor is not illegal – go see a doctor, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Melton said.
“Go get your prescriptions filled – that’s not illegal, and you can pay cash for those, but it’s when you get back here (to Franklin County) and divvy it up within the organization that it becomes illegal.”
In October, 24 suspects were indicted for working in a criminal syndicate – the first charges of this kind recently in Franklin County.
The first investigation – “Operation Maverick” – revealed that 36-year-old Neil Clark, of 1112 Maverick Trail, ran the operation behind the scenes while mid-level management, or “foremen,” traveled to Florida with the group to handle the money and ensure the prescriptions were filled.
Again, several weeks ago, Frankfort Police charged 14 suspects involved with another drug ring – but with no connection to the Florida pipeline. It was known as the “Memphis Crew” and was connected with mostly cocaine sales throughout Franklin County. As the name suggests, several suspects have connections to Memphis, Tenn.
Though no one from the “Crew” has been charged with engaging in organized crime, officials say that’s a possibility.
“We’re kind of thinking out of the box with the engaged in organized crime charges,” Melton said.
“With traditional narcotics investigations you go out, you do the undercover buy, you purchase some dope from them, and you indict them for trafficking … but when you have five or more (people working together) you’ve got a good organized crime case.”
Melton declined comment on details of the Florida activity in the most recent indictments. However, he said much like Clark’s operation, more than one pain clinic, or pill mill, was involved.
Weeks ago, officials said the suspects traveled to Florida where they filed false residences to receive Florida identifications.
Because of a new Florida law, having a state identification made it cheaper to see doctors and get prescriptions filled.
Florida doctors prescribed the pain pills after the suspects claimed they experienced some sort of pain.
Once the prescriptions were written, the suspects possibly traveled to several pharmacies for prescriptions because many Florida pharmacies have experienced pill shortages. This is presumably because of the large number of people coming from out of state, officials said.
“… It makes it harder on the legitimate people who truly have back pain and real chronic pain that need to be served by doctors,” Melton said.
Back in Kentucky, the suspects were repaid for their work in cash or pills, officials said.
Thirty-four-year-old Jason Ware, of 8827 Owenton Road, has been named the ringleader of the Untouchables, and many of the suspects are family members including his wife, Jodi Ware, 38; mother, Elizabeth Cummins, 57; and brother, Jeffery Ware, 31.
“This thing is run very much like a business across Franklin County,” Melton said.
Last week six suspects were arrested as alleged key players within the criminal syndicate.
During a preliminary hearing in Franklin District Court Jan. 24, it was revealed the detectives found financial ledgers detailing numerous people and the amount of pills each brought back to the divvy up within the “corporation.”
Though it seemed there are no full names listed and nicknames are used in some cases, Detective Matt Brown said he interviewed individuals who have identified them.
This group also made T-shirts displaying a photo of a few members with “Untouchables” printed on the front, Melton said. The shirts were destroyed in the last few weeks.
Melton said the name on the shirt might be a sign the suspects got overconfident “especially when you consider what we have done in the last 13 months ridding the drug problem here and working hard to fight it everyday.”
Officials say the pill problem drives much of the other crime in the city.
“You’re probably looking at 85 percent of the burglary, the robbery and all those things that are happening are happening because they’ve got to get money to get their pills,” Melton said.
“Obviously one drives the other, and you have to stamp out one to stop the other.”
County Attorney Rick Sparks, Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland and U.S. marshals aided in the investigations.
Those indicted include:
>Jason Allen Ware, 37, of Frankfort
>Debra Q. Baker, 61, Frankfort
>Jodi L. Ware, 38, of Frankfort
>Jeffrey Keith Ware, 31, of Frankfort
>Henry Earl Penn, 47, of Frankfort
>Jeff Allen Carrier, 43, of Frankfort
>Elizabeth A. Cummins, 57, of Frankfort
>Jessie Taylor Quire, 34, of Frankfort
>Artis Ike “Peter” Quire, 43, of Frankfort
>William Risque Beeler, 43, of Frankfort
>Jason Corde Smith, 40, of Frankfort
>Willis Earl Bickers, 31, of Frankfort
>Douglas Robert Smith, 40 of Frankfort
>Kelly Ray Smith, 38, of Lexington
>Andrea Sue Corman, 33, of Frankfort
>Aimee Denise Hockensmith, 27, of Frankfort
>John Charles Herman, 30, of Lawrenceburg
>Jason Thomas Dezarn, 32, of Lawrenceburg
>Brian Keith Bobbitt, 41, of Frankfort
>Michael Lee Baker, 44, of Frankfort
>Floyd Thomas Quire, 49, of Frankfort
>Angela Michelle Shelton, 41, of Frankfort
>Mark Allen Perkins, 43, of Frankfort
>John Wayne Wiley, 43, of Frankfort
>Joe Quire, 28 of Frankfort
>Shelley L. Hopper, 37, of Lawrenceburg
>Bronson Dwayne Masters, 34, of Frankfort
>Gary W. Blackburn, 35, of Frankfort