Operation Targets Street Drugs

Wheeling residents speaking out about drug activity on neighborhood streets was a part of the driving force behind a multi-agency law enforcement operation, officials announced Monday, noting the input civilians provide at local crime watch meetings is invaluable.

U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II, Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler and West Virginia State Police Capt. James Merrill announced the results of an enhanced operation by the Mountaineer Highway Interdiction Team that occurred over the past week in Wheeling. Leaders of the MHIT agencies said an “MHIT Blitz” took place between Thursday and Sunday with increased patrols on secondary roads throughout the area. Neighborhoods in East Wheeling, North Wheeling and Center Wheeling received extra attention as part of the project, known as “Operation Mayflower.”

Schwertfeger said that as a result of the effort, four felony charges and 18 misdemeanor charges were filed, and 64 citations were issued. There were also three DUI arrests. Drugs with a street value of more than $1,000 were recovered, and two active felony warrants were served. The substances recovered included prescription pills and marijuana.

“When our citizens bring issues to our attention, we listen and increase our presence,” said Schwertfeger. “This past weekend was a great example of that, and we’ll continue to do these types of operations in the future.”

“I learn a lot about our county by attending many of the community and crime watch meetings that are held each month,” Butler said. “The individuals who come to these meetings oftentimes provide us with actionable intelligence, and I appreciate that type of input.”

Ihlenfeld echoed Butler’s sentiments about the local crime watch meetings and also pointed out that he would personally attend the East Wheeling Crime Watch session Monday evening. At that meeting, West Virginia State Police Sgt. J.A. Laing filled in East Wheeling residents on the operation. He said the goal of the operation is to make criminals “uncomfortable.”

“I want criminals beat back into the shadows,” he said. “I want them living life like a rat, because that’s what they are.”

Laing said the weekend’s operation, while small in terms of manpower, was productive.

Michael Anthony Kobasko II of Wheeling was one of those arrested, and he allegedly had about 125 Xanax pills in his possession Friday. He is facing a felony charge of possession with intent to deliver a schedule IV controlled substance in state court.

In addition to the stops made over the weekend, MHIT was recently involved in the interdiction of 6 ounces of crack cocaine on Interstate 70 in a case that led to the federal indictment of John Allen III of Ohio for possession with intent to distribute.

The leaders of MHIT also said the resources available to the team have increased since the beginning of the year, announcing that there are now five full-time officers plus two K-9s dedicated to the unit.

“MHIT not only increases our presence on local roadways, but it also provides a partner for our drug task forces,” said West Virginia State Police Capt. James Merrill. “When a drug task force learns of a large supply of drugs that is coming into the area, then a call can be made to MHIT to aid in the interception of those drugs.”

Ihlenfeld noted that the operation was not the first time MHIT officers have ventured away from the highways and patrolled neighborhood streets – and it will not be the last.

Through the end of March, MHIT officers had filed 244 felony charges, 557 misdemeanor charges and had issued 205 misdemeanor citations, according to Merrill. More than 1,000 searches have been conducted, including 127 by the K-9 unit. Marijuana worth more than $250,000 has been seized, while heroin, cocaine and pills worth over $100,000 have been seized by the unit. A total of 14 stolen vehicles worth $145,000 have been recovered, and United States currency in excess of $75,000 has been seized.

Marshall County Bureau Chief J.W. Johnson Jr. contributed to this report.