In the wake of the series of raids last week dubbed “Operation Snowplow,” Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir is seeking federal assistance with the case that netted drugs, guns and money.
“I have been in contact with the United States Attorney’s Office in Wichita,” he told the County Commission Monday morning.
“We meet the criteria,” Bellendir said. Although the volume of narcotics confiscated, along with the presence of weapons, may meet the feds’ threshold to get involved, whether or not the office steps in is purely at the U.S. Attorney’s discretion.
The sheriff said they are still waiting for certified weights of the drugs from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratory and this could take several weeks. The amount will factor into the U.S. Attorney’s decision.
In the meantime, all but one of the seven arrested remain in the Barton County Jail on state charges. Should the United States Attorney take the case, the individuals would face federal charges.
If the federal attorney handles the prosecution, there would be a cost savings to Barton County, Bellendir said.
The Barton County Sheriff’s Office broke a “major drug ring” with the execution of nine search warrants in the early hours of last Monday morning, Oct. 1. “This investigation has netted the widest variety and largest quantity of drugs seized by the Sheriff’s Office in approximately the last 30 years,” Bellendir said after the bust.
Snowplow led to seven arrests on drug and weapons charges. There were raids at six locations.
Suspected heroin, LSD, cocaine and meth were among the substances seized. A preliminary estimate is that the drugs had a street value of half a million dollars.
“The investigation began as a cocaine distribution case. Detectives had used undercover techniques to purchase illicit drugs. The case mushroomed drastically into a major distribution case involving all types of drugs,” according to Bellendir’s statement.
Of particular concern was the fact the detectives came into possession of imitation hydrocodone tablets. The tablets had been manufactured to look like 5 mg hydrocodone prescription drugs. Upon analysis, it was discovered the tablets contained fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely powerful painkiller, more powerful than morphine.
Also, during the course of the investigation detectives obtained quantities of black tar heroin. Heroin has not been common in western Kansas for nearly two decades.
Investigation indicates a very strong likelihood most of these drugs originated in Mexico and were smuggled into the United States. Evidence of money order and wire transfers of money to Mexico were also discovered by law enforcement.
“All the above substances are pending laboratory analysis and certified weights,” Bellendir said. Estimated street value of the drugs is believed to be in excess of $500,000.
Along with the drugs, sheriff’s deputies seized one rifle and two shotguns. One of these shotguns had been sawed off to approximately 12 inches, Bellendir said. Multiple rounds of 00 buckshot were found with the gun.
“The Sheriff’s Office also seized more than $25,000 cash and three vehicles. It is anticipated that asset forfeiture proceedings will be filed on the cash and vehicles. The Sheriff’s Office is also considering the seizure of real estate related to the case,” Bellendir added.
The Sheriff’s Office requested assistance from other county and state agencies. It was assisted by officers from Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, Rush County Sheriff’s Office and the Rice County Sheriff’s Office.
“This operation is the culmination of several months of investigative work conducted by Sheriff’s Office detectives,” Bellendir said in a statement.
Operation Snowplow at a glance:
Raids (all in Great Bend) were conducted at:
• 2019 Elm Street
• 704 Odell Street
• 5808 16th Street Tr. Apt. 5C
• 401 Firethorn Street
• 2528 8th Street
• 162 NE 20 Ave.
The remaining three search warrants were for motor vehicles which were located and searched.
Estimated total amounts of the drugs seized were:
• 200 doses of LSD.
• 10 kilos of high-grade marijuana
• 1.5 kilos marijuana wax
• 2 ounces of black tar heroin
• 160 fluid ounces of liquid codeine
• 1 kilo of methamphetamine
• 2 kilos suspected china white heroin
• 8 oz. cocaine
• 6 oz. suspected Fentanyl
Arrested last Monday morning, Oct. 1, were Great Bend residents:
• Iban Martinez–Enrique, 21, for distribution of methamphetamine, distribution of cocaine, distribution of marijuana, distribution of heroin, possession of paraphernalia, criminal use of a weapon, and no drug tax stamp. Bond was set at $100,000, but now he is being held without bond.
• Miguel Gonzalez, 22, for possession of cocaine, possession of paraphernalia, and criminal use of a firearm; bond $10,000
• Candice Johnson, 42, for distribution of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia; bond $100,000
• Kennedy Beakey, 19, for distribution of a hallucinogenic and possession of paraphernalia; bond $50,000
• Pedro Garcia, 20, for possession of a stimulant, and possession of paraphernalia. Bond was set at $10,000 and he has bonded out of jail.
• Vincente Espino, 51, for distribution of methamphetamine, distribution of cocaine, distribution of heroin, distribution of fentanyl, distribution of LSD and distribution of marijuana. Bond set at $100,000.
A seventh suspect was nabbed later:
• Murel Dean Amador, 63, Great Bend, for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.