Spokane arrests part of West Coast drug bust
Law enforcement officers in Spokane, Los Angeles and Western Washington raided 47 locations Thursday morning and arrested 41 people in connection with an alleged conspiracy to distribute OxyContin, a widely abused prescription painkiller.
Nine people were taken into custody in Spokane, arraigned in U.S. District Court and ordered held for bail hearings.
Authorities said a total of 12 defendants were charged in Spokane on Thursday; three were already in custody on other charges.
Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said the raids were the result of a joint investigation in Eastern Washington and the Los Angeles area.
Agencies involved include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Spokane Regional Drug Task Force, the Los Angeles Police Department and others.
In Spokane, agents raided 16 residences.
Those arraigned in Spokane Thursday were 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 owns three Flamin’ Joe’s restaurants in Spokane County, which specialize in chicken wings and beer.
A large number of federal officers were in Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno’s courtroom providing security during the arraignment.
The nine defendants were brought into the court in three groups, and the courtroom was locked during recesses between each of the group appearances.
The prosecutor said that the case involves 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.
Imbrogno entered not guilty pleas for each of the defendants and said she was prepared to appoint attorneys for the defendants at public expense.
The government said it is seeking criminal forfeiture of $20 million, which is the amount prosecutors say the defendants made through criminal 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 Thursday.
U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Michael C. Ormsby released a statement commending 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 probe qualified for supplemental federal funding as an organized crime investigation, officials said.