CHARLESTON. -- A new partnership between West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey’s office and U.S. attorney William J. Ihlenfeld has made progress in halting the rampant problem of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.
Two attorneys are serving as special assistant U.S. attorneys: Lara Omps-Botteicher and Anthony Martin.Their main focus is the prosecution of heroin traffickers in northern West Virginia. Omps-Botteicher works in the criminal division of the Martinsburg branch office.
Since the partnership was announced in December 2015, there have been seven convictions of drug dealers. Ihlenfeld said when the partnership was announced a year ago, a large amount of drugs were passing through the eastern panhandle of the state, near Baltimore.
“This partnership will help to address that threat and is part of our continuing efforts to leverage new resources and techniques to save lives and strengthen our response to the distribution of drugs in West Virginia.” Ihlenfeld was sworn in as the U. S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia in 2010. A major component of his time has been spent capturing and prosecuting drug offenders.
Three recent indictments highlight the effectiveness of the program.
In August, Justin Thomas Mann was indicted for three counts of distribution of heroin after being accused of trafficking in drugs on Wheeling Island. On Sept. 29, Mann pleaded guilty. On Dec. 5, he was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison. The case was prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Randy J. Bernard and special assistant U.S. attorney Anthony Martin, also of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
On Nov. 23, Steven Bruce Mathis of Biglerville was indicted for possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute. Trial was set to begin this week. Omps-Botteicher is the prosecutor.
On Nov. 29, Michael Ernest Marshall pleaded guilty to possessing oxycodone with intent to distribute. Morrisey said, “News of yet another conviction reinforces why all levels of government must work together to defeat our state’s opioid epidemic.
“Since the inception of the partnership, eight people have been prosecuted and seven convicted, with most going to prison. One case is still pending.
Morrisey told The West Virginia Record the state drug problem is epidemic.
“Far too many West Virginians have died because of drug trafficking, particularly heroin, and those responsible must be punished," he said. "We, together with U.S. attorney Ihlenfeld, will continue to vigorously crack down on those who bring drugs into our state and communities.”
The efforts to combat the problem also include education. "We also will continue to build upon current substance abuse prevention and education initiatives targeting West Virginia youth," Morrisey said. "This issue affects far too many West Virginians, and we must do everything in our power to alleviate this scourge on the place we all call home.”
In addition to seeking arrests and convictions of drug traffickers, initiatives aimed at substance abuse prevention and education are being enhanced. School presentations will seek to prevent West Virginia youth from becoming involved with drugs.