WHEELING - From tracking down child sex offenders to fighting the war on drugs, law enforcement officers typically aren't recognized for their efforts in keeping a community safe. That changed Monday when U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld honored several local, state and federal law enforcement officers during a special ceremony at the Federal Building in downtown Wheeling.
Among the local honorees was Ohio County Sheriff's Lt. Joseph Cuchta who was recognized for his work in the investigation of Kevin Blaine Johnson, a Valley Grove resident who will be sentenced next month on federal child pornography possession charges and faces up to 10 years in prison. According to Ihlenfeld, Johnson abused a young boy, drugging him and touching him inappropriately while he slept and filming him as he emerged from the shower.
Ihlenfeld said Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler has described Cuchta's work ethic and attention to detail as "second to none." Those traits, he said, became apparent in the investigation of Johnson, who Ihlenfeld said had long been on the radar of law enforcement.
Photo by Ian Hicks
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld speaks during an awards ceremony Monday at the Federal Building in downtown Wheeling honoring outstanding law enforcement work.
Although Johnson had been the target of numerous child sex abuse investigations while living in the Huntington, W.Va., area, none of them resulted in a conviction - primarily, Ihlenfeld said, because Johnson targeted victims whose families were transient and unlikely to cooperate in an investigation. The difference, according to Ihlenfeld, was Cuchta's refusal to allow history to repeat itself once again.
"He was absolutely tenacious in keeping track of this mom and this boy," Ihlenfeld said.
Ihlenfeld also honored Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Stein and special agents Bryant Moravek of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and Ryan Korner and Jason Gandee of the Internal Revenue Service for their investigation of alleged lapses in anti-money laundering controls at global banking giant HSBC. That investigation remains open and could result in a massive settlement, as HSBC has set aside at least $700 million to cover those costs, according to published reports.
Three investigators, one with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and two with the West Virginia State Police, also received awards for their work in an investigation termed "Operation Double Down," which ended an illegal prescription pill ring led by Martins Ferry resident David Kidd. Those investigators are not being identified to avoid compromising their status as undercover investigators.
Ihlenfeld said Operation Double Down resulted in 26 indictments, many of them against people Kidd transported to clinics where they would "doctor shop" to obtain large amounts of prescription pills for transport back to the Ohio Valley. He said the group was responsible for distributing about 150,000 oxycodone pills in about a year's time.
Ihlenfeld also presented an award to a state police investigator for his investigation of Wheeling resident Dale Hamilton, who is serving a 14-year prison term for possession of child pornography. According to Ihlenfeld, Hamilton, a registered sex offender, was working as a handyman while free on bond on state charges when he attempted to use the homeowner's computer to print child pornography. He fled when the printer jammed, but the homeowner called police after the print job finished when the computer was turned back on.
Ihlenfeld said all of those honored Monday demonstrate daily that they place a high value on the lives of others and on keeping their communities safe.
"We appreciate all you do every day to protect us," Ihlenfeld said.