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Spokane Police investigation leads to federal drug charges for three men

FILE _ In a hearing Monday at Thomas S. Foley United States Courthouse, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers allowed Ronald D. Jennings to remain out of custody pending further hearings in his case. Jennings faces one county of distribution of fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid. Jennings and another man, Alan D. Ward, face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE _ In a hearing Monday at Thomas S. Foley United States Courthouse, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers allowed Ronald D. Jennings to remain out of custody pending further hearings in his case. Jennings faces one county of distribution of fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid. Jennings and another man, Alan D. Ward, face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Three Spokane men, including a convicted killer, face federal drug charges following an investigation by Spokane police into the distribution of drugs, including fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that has been blamed for a spike in overdose deaths throughout the country.

Ronald D. Jennings appeared in court Monday for a detention hearing for his single count of distribution of fentanyl. Jennings, who has no previous felony convictions, was released by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers pending future hearings in the case.

Jennings was charged in a case in which Spokane police detectives, and a federal agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, used a confidential informant to set up several buys for the synthetic drug fentanyl, which is so volatile that officers do not perform field tests out of safety concerns, according to court records.

Defense attorney Bevan Maxey argued that Jennings’ lack of criminal history showed that he should be allowed to remain out of jail pending further hearings.

“I thought the magistrate made the right decision,” Maxey said.

The charging documents for Jennings include allegations that he was supplying fentanyl to Alan D. Way, a convicted felon previously known as Alan D. Penaway.

As part of the Spokane police investigation, officers made several controlled buys where they would record the serial numbers from money that was then used to make drug buys. Officers would either follow the informant to the scene or watch the transaction from a distance.

Spokane police performed a search warrant at Way’s home on Nov. 2 and detained him. Way has seven prior felony convictions. He was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 2015 after pleading guilty to possession of drugs and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

During an interview in the current case, Way said that he was snorting fentanyl and began selling it to support his habit. He said his supplier was a man later identified as Jennings, court records state. But Way remained out of custody as long as he cooperated with the investigation.

The detectives then used Way to make two more purchases from Jennings, who registered one of his cell phones under the name “John Gotti.” During the search after Jennings’ arrest on Nov. 2, detectives found money that had previously been given to Way to make a purchase of fentanyl.

After Jennings was arrested, detectives asked Way on the same day to come to the office that houses the SPD’s Special Investigations Unit, which works drug cases. Way identified a photograph of Jennings as his supplier.

“Way refused to cooperate any further” and Detective Michael Bahr placed Way under arrest, according to court records. “Way was walked to a SPD patrol car where he asked (Bahr), ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ ”

Both Jennings and Way face a maximum of 20 years in prison and $1 million fines for distribution of fentanyl.

In what appears to have been a clerical error, the charging documents for Jennings include a reference to Benjamin R. Howard. Howard’s name is listed in the court records but it has a line drawn through it, and Jennings’ name was hand-written onto the document and then initialed by detectives.

Howard, 33, pleaded guilty in 2009 to second-degree manslaughter in connection with the June 3, 2008, stabbing death of Kenneth P. Jordan.

Howard, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for that killing, was charged in October in federal court with possession with intent to distribute 500 or more grams of methamphetamine after detectives used a confidential informant to make several purchases of methamphetamines.

Spokane police detectives searched Howard’s home, at 1413 E. Broad Ave., on Oct. 11. Howard was present when the detectives discovered about 6 pounds of meth along with cash.

“He did not make a statement,” Bahr wrote in court records.

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