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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Arrests Made in Meth Distribution Ring

Carthage Press: News Index

Arrests made in meth distribution ring

By Dennis W. Sowers, Of The Press Staff
A three-month drug conspiracy investigation resulted in the arrests of six people by the Jasper County Drug Task Force last week on federal grand jury indictments.

The task force, along with the help of the Carthage Police Department, Joplin Police Department, Southwest Drug Task Force and the Jasper, Newton and Barton County sheriff's departments, arrested three people at the Motel 6 in Joplin and three were arrested who were already in custody.

The investigation focused on the distribution of methamphetamine in the Jasper County area. During the course of the investigation approximately $110,000 in cash and 14 firearms were seized. A portion of the cash will return to the JCDTF to be used in future investigations.

Mark Walker, 43, a former Carthage resident with a current address of 6374 Hwy. 43, Joplin, was arrested on two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Melanie Fortner, 38, a former Carthage resident with a current address of 6374 Hwy. 43, Joplin, was arrested on two counts of possession with intent to distribute. Juan H. Gonzalez, also a former Carthage resident who is presently residing at the Motel 6, was arrested on one count of possession with intent to distribute. All three were arrested without incident.

"All these people kind of showed up all at once," said Det. Randee Kaiser of the Jasper Country Drug Task Force. "We kind of fell into things and we figured out what the connection was.

"We got them pretty much in the initial stages, which is a good thing."

Manuel Villareal, 46, Joplin, who was once a Carthage resident, was already in custody at the U.S. Marshall's Office in Springfield. He was arrested on two counts of possession of a controlled substance for sale, one count of illegal alien unlawfully in the U.S., one count of previously deported illegal alien returning to the U.S., one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

Brian Valentine, 34, Joplin, previously in custody at the Jasper County Sheriff's Department, was charged with three counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

Olegario Villareal, 24, Joplin, was arrested for one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He was already in custody at the Newton County Sheriff's Department.

All six of the suspects were were indicted by a grand jury in Springfield. Count one alleges that all defendants conspired to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine between February and May 6. Count nine would require Villareal-Amarillas to forfeit any proceeds, including $78,870 seized from him on March 17.

Motels became the focus of the investigation as the suspects use them as vehicles to distribute drugs.

"It offers a little anonymity -- being in a motel as opposed to a permanent residence," Kaiser said. "For someone on the move, it's easier to go that route. They can pack up and move to another motel to avoid detection by police very easily.

"Several of the group, their only residence was motels. They had been living in motels the last several months."

Kaiser said it was the combined cooperation of several hotels and motels that helped lead to the arrests.

The former Carthage patrolman also said the whole project would not have been possible without the help of cooperating agencies who did reports and surveillance and served search warrants. He said the task force looks good in making the arrests but that "without their help we just wouldn't have been able to get it done."

Kaiser said that the federal indictments were an indication of the seriousness of the crime but not a signal that the task force's work was done.

"Each time you've taken a gram off the street you've made a dent," Kaiser said. "If that puts you one step closer to solving the problem, I don't know. I don't know if you ever go down that road."

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