NEW MARTINSVILLE - Law enforcement officials with the West Virginia State Police, U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies arrested 25 of 29 people indicted Wednesday by a Wetzel County grand jury on suspicion of illegal drug activity at a New Martinsville public housing complex.
During a press conference Thursday at the Wetzel County Courthouse, Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught said the arrests were made over a 12-hour span following the indictments. Warrants were issued for the individuals, with many being arrested early Thursday by a task force of law enforcement. Two more people are in custody elsewhere, with one awaiting extradition in Georgia and another being held in Ohio County on an unrelated charge from Georgia. Nobody was injured during the arrests, which were described as "smooth."
Haught said all the indictments, which were sealed and will remain so until arraignment proceedings next week, are related to and stem from activity at the New Martinsville Villa apartments. That apartment complex provides HUD housing for those seeking public assistance. Haught said while some of those indicted reside in the complex, other simply hang out there on a regular basis.
Photo by J.W. Johnson Jr.
Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught on Thursday announces the indictment of 29 people for drug charges at the New Martinsville Villa apartments while State Police Capt. James Merrill watches.
"All of these 29 are linked in some way to the Villa and the problems we've had there," Haught said. "Unfortunately, this level of criminal activity has been going on at this publicly subsidized housing complex for quite some time."
Haught said there is no reason to believe any of the management for the Villa are involved in the drug ring, and he has met with management officials on "a number of occasions" on ways to improve security at the complex and curb illegal activity. He said management is in the process of installing video cameras to improve security.
However, Haught said strict guidelines for HUD housing make it tough to keep people who may cause problems from renting. He said regulations set must be followed, and though people with felony convictions may not lease an apartment, there is a 10-year statute of limitations.
Because of the large number of people involved and the potential interstate transfer of the pills, Haught sought guidance from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wheeling on making the investigation a federal case. However, he said the penalties faced by the involved individuals will be more strict if they are tried in state circuit court.
"As a state case, it doesn't matter if you sold one pill or 5,000 pills, the penalty is the same," he said, adding the street values for the sale of the pills in question would total several thousands of dollars. "These pills are selling for $40-$50 per pill, and all it takes is for someone to obtain them, turn around and sell them and make a substantial amount of money."
Authorities are still looking for two remaining suspects, identified as Melinda Rice, a white female, and a heavy-set black male known only as "D-Wall." Haught said anyone with information on those suspects should contact law enforcement immediately. Those who have been arrested are scheduled to appear for arraignment Tuesday in Wetzel County Circuit Court.