An investigation that began more than a year ago in the small Cumberland Plateau town of Crossville led investigators to an alleged organized pill distribution ring that at times spilled across state lines.
In Nashville, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee announced Monday afternoon the arrests of 27 individuals who allegedly conspired to illegally distribute pharmaceuticals.
Authorities began arresting defendants Friday following an indictment that names 33 people out of Crossville, Tenn., who allegedly diverted prescription pills from legitimate outlets such as pharmacies and hospitals for illegal distribution.
So far, authorities said they have seized through search warrants more than 1,000 pills, $335,000 in cash and jewelry, 25 firearms and more than 40 vehicles.
Six of those indicted remain at large.
At a Monday afternoon press conference, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin said prescription pill abuse is a “significant problem in the United States” and has led to incidences of accidental prescription pill overdose reaching “epidemic proportions.”
“According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five high school students has taken a prescription drug without a prescription,” Martin said. “Alarmingly, Tennessee has the eighth highest overdoes rate in the nation.”
Returned by a federal grand jury last week, the indictment paints a picture of an organized operation that bought and sold prescription pills by a variety of means, selling the pills for profit and all the while keeping an eye on the law.
The indictment specifically lists oxycodone (more commonly known by brand name drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Lortab) and alprazolam (Xanax) as the controlled substances allegedly distributed by those charged.
Defendants named in the indictment allegedly used other people, including other defendants, to obtain and fill prescriptions, sometimes paying others to do so or traveling to other states (including Georgia and Florida) to do so.
The alleged distribution ring bartered and bought pills with those charged allegedly working as suppliers, distributors, financiers and brokers within the organization.
At times, according to the indictment, the suspects allegedly used fake names, code words and prepaid cell phones to conduct business and used the U.S. Postal Service and other couriers to ship the drugs.
The ring also operated out of businesses and registered property in the names of others to avoid detection. The indictment states those allegedly involved went as far as conducting counter-surveillance on law enforcement activity.
Those indicted for the conspiracy, and who have already been arrested, include the following: Spike William Hedgecoth, 64; Kevin Wade Hedgecoth, 38; Samuel William Hedgecoth, 40; Matthew Lee Cowart, 27; Joseph Allen Cowart, 50; Tommy Mason Rosecrants, 23; Joy Marie Lewis, 23; Howard Wayne Bell, 27; David Franklin King, 69; James Robert Crawford, 30; Kyle Richard Barrier, 26; Emily Carol Bradley, 26; Timothy Richard Forrester, 37; Michael Ray Gant, 51; Robert Duane Hicks, 44; James Gale Kennedy, 55; Vanessa Renea Mims, 49; James Russell Norris, 46; Tiffany Brook Norris, 22; Marcia Bernice Press, 31; Samuel Douglas Profitt, 73; Travis Kurt Proffitt, 34; Tresha Mae Sherrill, 35; Christie Louise Whittaker, 32; Kevin James Woody, 30; Courtney Jo Rabideau, 30; and James Alan Wyatt, 47.
King faces two additional counts for using a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime and for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Alex Little is prosecuting the case for the government.
Although the case emerged out of Crossville, it would expand to include the Crossville Police Department, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department spread to include investigators from a variety of agencies including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Each individual charged faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $1 million fine if convicted.