A case involving 62 defendants and allegedly $20 million worth of California drugs sold on the West Coast continues its circuitous trek through the federal courts, with some suspects objecting to the government’s use of wiretapping in the investigation.
Federal authorities announced raids in February that ended in the apprehension of what investigators said were dozens of members of a sophisticated drug delivery ring, including at least nine people in Spokane. Among those arrested was Sally Guthrie, a restaurateur who owned three Flamin’ Joes locations in the county at the time she was booked.
Suspects in California and Western Washington were also arrested, all charged with peddling OxyContin, an oft-abused prescription painkiller. Illicit use is so prevalent the Food and Drug Administration announced in September new labeling guidelines for the drug and ordered studies by pharmaceutical companies into its long-term effects.
Investigators allege five people oversaw the operation, charging them with monitoring a continuing criminal enterprise. Prosecutors announced their intentions to prove Gilbert Leroy Madison, currently listed in custody of the Yakima County Jail, as “a leader and supervisor” of the plot, which allegedly ran from 2008 through January.
Defendants are so numerous they have been grouped into three parties by the court. Some have been housed in the Spokane County Jail, others in Benton and Yakima counties, while some remain out-of-custody throughout the West Coast. The case has kept court schedulers busy, with expected trial dates of May, then December, pushed to May 2014 and likely headed for further delays. Release of more than 100,000 pages of investigative discovery hit a snag when the government inadvertently released information that compromised one of its undercover informants, according to court documents.
Shindona Jones, a Los Angeles woman currently in custody of the Kittitas County Jail, has requested the government turn over the details of its wiretaps in the case. Investigators bugged the cellphones of the defendants, producing hours of recorded phone calls that prosecutors plan to admit as evidence. But Jones’ attorney says the government is remaining tight-lipped about the technology involved, potentially infringing on the woman’s Constitutional rights.
In retort, the government has said keeping such information confidential serves a public safety interest and should remain secret.
A federal judge ruled last month that the details of wiretapping technology used by investigators should be made available to defense attorneys. Officials briefed attorneys of their methods during a hearing held Tuesday in Spokane.
The distributors in the case face potential fines of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison, while those allegedly in charge of the operation could be sentenced to life in prison.