Law enforcement officers in Spokane, Los Angeles and Western Washington raided 47 locations early today and arrested 41 people in connection with an alleged conspiracy to distribute OxyContin, a widely abused prescription painkiller.
Nine people taken into custody in Spokane were arraigned in U.S. District Court and ordered held for bail hearings.
Authorities said that a total of 12 defendants were charged in Spokane this morning; three were already in custody on other charges.
Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said the raids are the result of a joint OxyContin investigation in Eastern Washington and Los Angeles.
Agencies involved include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Spokane Regional Drug Task Force, the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies.
In Spokane, agents raided 16 residences.
Those appearing in court in Spokane this morning are Arvin Terrell Carmen, Amber Cherokee Branch, Katriel Marquis Bulley, Brandon Leigh Chavez, David Emile Colbert, Sally Blakely Guthrie, Marlon Deshawn Johnson, Harry Joseph Johnwell Jr. and Mercedes Leshawn Reeves. All were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Three of the people face additional charges.
Carmen was charged with continuing criminal enterprise. Bulley was charged with one count of distribution of a controlled substance. Johnson was charged with two counts of distributing a controlled substance.
Guthrie is the owner of three Flamin’ Joe’s restaurants in Spokane County, which specialize in chicken wings and beers.
A large number of federal officers were in Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno’s courtroom today providing security.
The nine defendants were brought into the court in three groups and the court room was locked in between each of the group appearances.
The federal prosecutor said that the case involves use of wiretaps that led to a considerable volume of transcripts that were being prepared for release to defense attorneys.
The action stems from a 32-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Spokane in January.
Prior to one of the arraignments this morning, one defendant could be heard asking how long the case had been under investigation. A federal defender told him that was not an issue before the court during the arraignment, which involves reading charges and advising defendants of their rights.
Imbrogno entered not guilty pleas for each of the defendants.
Imbrogno said she was prepared to appoint public federal defenders for the defendants.
The government said it is seeking criminal forfeiture of $20 million, which is the alleged amount of proceeds obtained as result of the suspected activity.
The indictment states that $28 million was seized last June and another $107,000 was seized last September.
The indictment also alleges that the operation dates back to 2008 or longer.
Details of how the operation worked were not made public and are not included in the indictment unsealed today.
U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby in Spokane in a press release commended the cooperation of the agencies involved.
A Seattle agent for the DEA said in the press release that the alleged drug ring moved between Los Angeles and Spokane and provided painkillers for people with addictions.
The investigation qualified as an organized crime drug task force investigation that provides supplemental federal funding, officials said.
A press release listed 21 government agencies that provided information to the case, including Spokane sheriff and police officers and Washington State Patrol.