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Clarion County Doesn’t Stop Drug Investigations at County Line; ‘We’re Going to Go After Them’

Tuesday, March 26, 2019 @ 12:03 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

welsh-peckCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – “Heroin and fentanyl are not produced in Clarion County,” said Clarion County Assistant District Attorney Drew Welsh, in an interview with last week about drug investigations in Clarion County.

“Somebody is bringing them into our community, and we do not like that. If somebody is doing that, we’re going to go after them. We want to stop them.”

(PHOTO: Assistant DA Drew Welsh and Clarion County Detective Bill Peck.)

Clarion County Detective Bill Peck, who also serves as Clarion Borough Police Chief is more direct: “We’re going to come and get you.”

“We don’t stop at the county line with these types of investigations,” said Peck. “If what you sell in Ohio or Pittsburgh or wherever affects someone in our community, we’re going to come and get you. We’ve done it over and over, and we’re going to continue to do it. We’re going after the suppliers.”

A March 15 press conference outlined the recent arrests of six individuals who allegedly operated a regional drug ring that also led to the death of a Clarion County man who was sold fentanyl.

Both Welsh and Peck feel the arrests and investigation made a dent in drug operations.

“There was much fentanyl coming into northwest Pennsylvania in this particular case,” said Welsh. “It was coming in from Pittsburgh up to Ridgway and then out. That’s not to say it was the only source of fentanyl or there still isn’t work that needs to be done.

“I feel it made a dent, and you have to ask yourself if it’s not making a dent then why are (we) spending all of these resources, and we all felt this is going to make a difference. I think one of the reasons we had the press conference was that this time there was some of the best, broadest cooperation I’ve seen of any law enforcement.  When you’ve got multiple counties and state agencies you can do excellent work.

“Working together on the recent drug bust was unquestionably the key to success.

“You could look at this narrowly, and you had someone who died, and you were able to track that to the person who gave him the drugs.  That’s a very narrow focus.  Some organizations might say we got what we needed, but I know Chief Peck, myself, and District Attorney Aaron are not satisfied to say that’s the end of it. Once you start saying we want to go further – we want to make sure we’re not looking too narrowly — you’re inherently going to get other departments and organizations involved. The investigation in that was so well done, quickly, and everyone worked together that it just flowed so smoothly.”

Included in the arrests were approximately 113 grams of heroin/fentanyl with a street value of $48,500.00 and smaller amounts of crack cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, suboxone, and prescription pills.

The investigation revealed that from September 2018 through March 2019 an additional $150,000.00 street value of heroin/fentanyl was funneled into Elk, Jefferson, and Clarion Counties through this criminal organization.

All of the seized material is being held as evidence.  After the case, the drugs are destroyed because there’s no use for them, but there is a core procedure for the seized money and vehicles. Owners of the impounded cars or cash could consent to forfeiture, or prosecution could also make a case in court that the funds or vehicles were used in the process of distribution of drugs.

“We’ve had lots of cases in the past where we’ve made that connection with drug money, and it gets forfeited,” said Welsh. “When we have forfeitures of money, and if it’s specifically a CNET investigation, forfeited money could go back for expenditures, explicitly related to drug task force sort of things. You can’t just take money from a drug investigation and spend it on whatever else.  You have to spend it on something related to the investigation.”

Peck said the money could be used for training, equipment, or similar expenses.

Welsh said it could also be used for technology that assists in investigations.

“Sometimes we do record phone calls and wiretaps, and there’s a training requirement that goes along with that,” Welsh said. “You can get a search warrant from a magistrate or a district judge or a court of common pleas judge to search the phone. The process that we used to have is there’s a state police lab where we would have to send it—and we still do it in some cases—and they have software that pulls all of that information off and organizes it into text messages, pictures, videos, and whatever.

“Sometimes it was taking a long time to process the phones, and we wanted to say—if Bill has a current ongoing investigation and we need a search warrant and now CNET can take it and move quickly to get all of that information.  Especially with these drug investigations, knowledge and information is the key to what’s going on.”

CNET was able to purchase the software to take information from a phone.

When someone deletes a message on their phone, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s deleted from the phone. Investigations often reveal deleted messages where somebody set up a drug deal, but when the phone is plugged into CNET software, police are able to retrieve messages.

Technology has helped any investigation of the sale of illegal drugs.

“It has helped, and we have to keep up with the trends in technology because the people who are doing drug deals and selling are using technology to do that,” Welsh said. “We need to stay ahead of the curve, and we’ve been able to do that.  We don’t want to be stuck behind and have people selling drugs ahead technology-wise. Undoubtedly, we’ve made stronger cases because of it.”

Law enforcement can contact Facebook themselves, and Facebook keeps everything. Clarion County can get a search warrant for any provider and get whatever information they have and be able to piece things together.

However, Welsh said that while technology is important, human resources is even more critical.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing in any of these drug investigations is going to be the manpower.  If you have someone that’s conducting surveillance of a house or surveillance on an individual, it’s people putting in the work.  You can’t automate this.

“There’s no amount of technology that can complete all of the things that need to be done.  You need the trained law enforcement that knows what they are doing because, at the end of the day, they’re going to have to get up on the stand and offer their observations.  If a search warrant is questioned, well here’s my experience and training and what I have observed created probable cause.  There’s no substitute for experience, and there’s no substitute for the people in there doing it. When you’re dealing with drug investigations, there’s no substitute for experience, both in surveillance and analysis of text messages.  Drug dealers are using their own language and ways of communication.”

Undercover police officers, primarily from the state police, and confidential informants are also used.

“They are a tool we use, but we use many tools,” said Peck. “I can go buy drugs, but not very often—maybe someone from out of town.”

Welsh said he values their efforts.

“Generally, in drug investigations, the undercover and informants are people who can get in there and conduct drug purchases. Especially if it’s an undercover police officer who has made contact, and that makes a very strong case. We need people who are going to be able to conduct those transactions. The undercover officers deserve a lot of credit because they have a very dangerous job.”

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