$1.7 Million Prescription Pill Ring Busted in Erie ‘Operation Pill Rush’

37 charged with trafficking more than $1.7 million in prescription drugs

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Linda Kelly today announced that agents from the Attorney General’s office and local police are in the process of arresting 37 suspects accused of distributing large quantities of powerful prescription drugs in and around Erie.

 

Kelly said the 17-month long investigation, known as “Operation Pill Rush,” focused on the trafficking and sale of potentially addictive pain medications including OxyContin, Hydrocodone and Fentanyl, along with other drugs such as heroin and marijuana.

“Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem and has been classified as an epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Kelly said. “This investigation began when we noticed a large increase in the volume of prescription drugs that were turning up on the streets in Erie County, which eventually led us to three loosely-knit groups allegedly responsible for bringing tens of thousands of pills into northwestern Pennsylvania.”

Kelly said information about growing prescription drug sales in Erie prompted the creation of an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) involving the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and numerous local police departments.  Evidence and testimony was presented to a statewide investigation grand jury which recommended the criminal charges that were filed today.

The grand jury identified three separate pill sales organizations, allegedly led by the following individuals:
. Rickey “Dawg” Johnson, age 22, of 1140 West 11th St., Erie.
. Majed “Moe” Hamza Al-Ramadan, age 42, of 1833 West 22nd St., Erie.
. Denise “Dee” McConnell, age 50, of 1201 West 20th St., Erie.

“Recent changes in the way some powerful prescription drugs are now formulated has made it more difficult for addicts to crush, snort, inject them in order to get high – something that has dramatically boosted the ‘street value’ of older pills that are more easily abused,” Kelly said. “Over the past year the prices in Erie for some of these pills has more than doubled, opening the door to substantial profits for traffickers who were able to obtain supplies of these high-demand drugs.”

Kelly noted that all three organizations allegedly obtained pills from suppliers located in larger cities outside Pennsylvania, where prices were lower and availability was higher.  Johnson allegedly obtained prescription drugs from sources in Detroit while Al-Ramadan relied on connections in Dearborn, Michigan and McConnell allegedly acquired pills in Brooklyn, New York. All three are accused of distributing pills to various other dealers in Erie along with selling directly to drug addicts and users.

The grand jury heard testimony about undercover “buys” and controlled drug purchases involving Johnson, Al-Ramadan and McConnell, along with evidence that all three were supplying numerous other dealers in the region.  Together, these three organizations are believed to have distributed more than 30,000 pills, worth an estimated $1.76 million, over the past two years.

“Across the country, overdose deaths related to these powerful pain medications far exceeds the number of deaths linked to heroin or cocaine – and the deadly toll linked to drugs is now the second most common cause of fatalities in the U.S., trailing just behind traffic accidents,” Kelly said.

Kelly said all three drug organizations were allegedly well-known among drug users in the Erie region, who would move freely back-and-forth between the groups depending on the availability and price of their preferred drugs.

The grand jury found that others linked to the Rickey Johnson drug organization included Jeffrey D. Carlson, John H. Maas, Kellie Rae Eggleston, Amanda M. Santiago and Vivian Ann Schwindt, all of Erie.

Alleged drug sales associates of Majed Al-Ramadan include Nabil Al-Jilehawi, Julio Antonio Acosta, Angela M. DiMarco, Shon Danyal Loucks and Brandon Steven Powell, all of Erie, along with Joanna Victoria Landis, of Edinboro.

The grand jury found that individuals linked to pill sales by Denise McConnell include Jody Allen Jefferson, Jeremy Cook, Kelley A. Cook and Albert Charles Parris III, all of Erie, along with Lindsey Louise Creaton, Catherine Ann Zimmer and James C. Wentz, all of Edinboro.

Kelly said that over the course of the investigation agents and local officers were involved in more than 50 undercover drug buys or controlled drug purchases. The sales occurred in parking lots, street corners and other meeting locations throughout Erie.

The drugs that were purchased included OxContin, Oxycodone, hydrocodone, Fentanyl patches, morphine, Oxymorphone, heroin and marijuana.

“The illegal diversion and sale of prescription drugs is a growing and dangerous enterprise and serves as a major gateway to other forms of drug abuse,” Kelly said. “Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that nearly one-third of all the people who used drugs for the first time began by using prescription drugs in a non-medical manner – with many users regularly switching between powerful pain medications and ‘traditional’ illegal drugs, such as heroin.”

Kelly said that in addition to the individuals directly linked to these three drug organizations, the grand jury also identified 16 other Erie area residents accused of selling prescription drugs to undercover agents.

It is important to note that while the make-up of some prescription drugs has now changed, making them more difficult to abuse and less valuable on the streets, there is a constant effort by users and dealers to find new ways to defeat various safeguards or to identify other drugs that can satisfy their addictions,” Kelly said. “This is a deadly struggle that is occurring across the country and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with local and federal authorities to identify the illegal networks that are putting powerful drugs into the hands of young people without any concern for the potentially deadly consequences of prescription drug abuse.”

Kelly added that this is an ongoing investigation, not only involving the illegal sale of prescription drugs in and around Erie, but also concerning the sources for the large quantities of drugs that are being shipped into communities across Pennsylvania.

The criminal charges were all filed today before Erie Magisterial District Judge Suzanne Mack, who will schedule preliminary hearings at a future date.

The defendants will be prosecuted in Erie County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Douglas J. Wright of the Attorney General’s Drug Strike Force Section.

Attorney General Kelly thanked the following agencies for their cooperation and assistance with this investigation, including Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri’s Office, along with Erie County Detectives and police departments from Erie City, Edinboro, Girard, Lawrence Park, Meadville City and Millcreek. Additionally, Kelly thanked the Pennsylvania State Police and U.S. Border Patrol for their assistance with today’s arrest.

A full list of the defendants, along with the charges filed against them, is attached below:

Rickey “Dawg” Johnson, age 22, 1140 West 11th St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, all felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Majed “Moe” Hamza Al-Ramadan, age 42, 1833 West 22nd St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Denise L. “Dee” McConnell, 50, 1201 West 20th St., Erie, is charged with four counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, all felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; four counts of possession of a controlled substance, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and four counts of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Julio Antonio Acosta, 36, 737 East 28th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Nabil Al-Jilehawi, 44, 521 Poplar St, Erie, is charged with three counts of delivery of a controlled substance, all felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; three counts of possession of a controlled substance, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and three counts of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Jessica Lynn Bawol, 22, 8155 Platz Road, Fairview, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, all felonies which are each punishable by up to five years in prison and $15,000 fines; one count of possession of a controlled substance, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Gloria Jean Black, 32, 1502 Poplar St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, felonies each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Jeffrey D. Carlson, 52, 809 3rd St, Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; one count of possession of a controlled substance, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Deontae Charmaine Cole, 31, 862 East 28th St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, both felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Jeremy Cook, 29, 75 Orchard St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Kelley A. Cook, 30, 75 Orchard St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Lindsey Louise Creaton, 23, 207 Dundon Road, Edinboro, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Robert Theodore Dambacher, 42, 735 East 28th St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, both felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Dana Nicolette Dickerson, 23, 1119 Tacoma Road, Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Angela M. DiMarco, 22, 2627 Charlotte St, Erie, is charged with one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and one count of theft by unlawful taking, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Kellie Rae Eggleston, 24, 453 West 6th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, along with one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Shawn Ryan Flower, 27, 4933 Hue Drive, Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, both felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Arthur Russell Gross Jr., 46, 1115 West 24th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, along with one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Monica Alice Hart, 36, 16245 Stewart Hill Road, Union City, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; along with one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Jody Allen Jefferson, 47, 1201 West 20th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Michael D. Knippenberg, 21, 804 Clifton Drive, Erie, is charged with one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine, along with one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Melissa Anne Marie Kump, 38, 1424 Nicholson St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Joanna Victoria Landis, 24, 26 Duke Drive, Edinboro, is charged with one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 year in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and one count of theft by unlawful taking or disposition, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Shon Danyal Loucks, 24, 334 West 2nd St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, felonies each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

John H. Maas, 46, 2419 Wayne St., Erie, is charged with three counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, all felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; three counts of possession of a controlled substance, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and three counts of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Elizabeth R. Marsh, 21, 98 Terrace Drive, Edinboro, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Fred Lewis Ostwalt, 42, 17 Boone Drive, Edinboro, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Albert Charles Parris III, 29, 821 East 9th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Shawn Lee Potts, 26, 745 East 10th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, along with one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Brandon Steven Powell, 25, 334 West 2nd St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, both felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Christopher D. Price, 39, 943 East 8th St., Erie, is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; and two counts of criminal use of a communications facility, both felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Amanda M. Santiago, 24, 1310 8th St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; along with one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Vivian Ann Schwindt, 47, 1701 Cascade St., Erie, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Courtney Melisa Tomko, 22, 1075 Cherry St., Lake City, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to five years in prison and $15,000 fines.

Pete Harold Veit, 51, 2668 Hazel St., Erie, is charged with two felony counts of delivery of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; two counts of possession of a controlled substance, each punishable by up to one year in prison and $5,000 fines; and one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

James C. Wentz, 25, 129 Chestnut St., Edinboro, is charged with one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, along with one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Catherine Ann Zimmer, 26, 52 Franklin Drive, Edinboro, is charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of criminal conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, both felonies which are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 fines; one count of possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; along with one count of criminal use of a communications facility, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.


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One Comment

  1. Nunya says:

    Maybe they should do another drug trafficer sweep in the potter/ mckean area again

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