18 facing federal drug charges
By Annette Christie
Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced that his office sought, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Phillip J. Green issued, last Friday and earlier Monday, arrest warrants for eighteen separate defendants charged by criminal complaint with conspiring to distribute heroin and cocaine in the areas of Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor, Michigan. The affidavit filed in support of the complaint alleges that the drugs were trafficked into West Michigan by semi-tractor trailer from California.
During the arrests of the defendants and execution of associated searches, federal, state and local investigators seized over 30 kilograms of heroin and cocaine, multiple pounds of marijuana, two-kilogram presses, approximately $1,000,000 in cash, a bullet-proof vest, three handguns and an assault rifle with an extended magazine. One defendant suffered a gunshot wound in the course of the execution of the arrests and searches. He will appear for proceedings as his condition allows.
The charges are the result of a multi-agency federal, state and local law enforcement investigation into the conspiracy including: The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Vice Unit of the Grand Rapids Police Department, Kent County Sheriff’s Department, Wyoming Police Department, Michigan State Police, Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team, Metropolitan Enforcement Team, U.S. Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team, Albion Police Department, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department and the Southwest Enforcement Team (SWET) which includes the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
The charges in the complaint, which carry varying maximum penalties of up to 20 years of life in prison, depending on the allegations against the individual defendant, are merely accusations and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
The complaint charges individuals from Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Chicago, Illinois, Grandville, Kentwood, and Benton Harbor.
WZZM is reporting that four of the individuals are still at large including: Demetrius Gaines, 41, of Wyoming; Retisha Pegram (aka “Blackie”), 36, of Grand Rapids; and Etrevion Murphy, 21, of Benton Harbor. Anyone with information about their whereabouts should call the DEA office in Grand Rapids at 616-458-0616.
Cocaine trafficking groups disrupted in Benton Harbor
On Monday, August 28, SWET-West detectives along with members of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant for illegal narcotics at 330 Walnut Ave., in Benton Charter Township. This search warrant was a result of an ongoing investigation into the sale and distribution of crack cocaine. SWET-West detectives seized several grams of crack-cocaine, a quarter pound of marijuana, a hand gun, and several hundred dollars in U.S. currency from the property.
Roger Lee Barney Jr., 38, was arrested and arraigned in Berrien 5th District Court on possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine, possession with intent to deliver marijuana, maintaining a drug house, possession of a firearm by a felon, and felony firearms.
The Southwest Enforcement Team (SWET) is comprised of sworn law enforcement personnel from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, Barry County Sheriff’s Office, Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, Kalamazoo Township Police Department, South Haven Police Department, Covert Police Department, and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office.
On August 30, SWET-West detectives along with member of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant for illegal narcotics at 1069 E. Main St., in the City of Benton Harbor. This search warrant was a result of a two-month investigation into the sale and distribution of crack cocaine, powder cocaine, and heroin from 1069 E. Main Street.
During the search warrant, officers seized approximately one-ounce of powder cocaine, approximately a half ounce of crack cocaine, approximately a half ounce of heroin, and several hundred dollars in U.S. currency from the property.
Suspect Mark Junior Barnes, 53, was arrested and lodged at the Berrien County Jail on six felony drug charges as well as maintaining a drug house.
Woman’s death is suspicious
On September 3, 2017, officers of the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety responded to a request for assistance in the 1200 block of Superior St. Officers responded and while checking a residence discovered a deceased female inside. The female, identified as Jeanette Finehout, 36, was found in a bedroom in the residence.
Detectives are investigating Finehout’s death as suspicious pending the autopsy and more details will be released as the investigation continues.
The Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety was assisted by the Michigan State Police Major Crimes Unit and Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
Anyone with information is requested to call the tipline at 269-927-0293 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-342-7867.
Michigan State Police investigating United Federal Credit Union fraud
The Michigan State Police-Niles Post, is conducting a fraudulent check investigation involving several member accounts associated with the United Federal Credit Union financial institution. The fraudulent activity began in December 2016 and has occurred in the following branches: Niles, Stevensville, Benton Harbor, and Holland.
At this time, there is no reason to believe or suspect member accounts have been jeopardized in any way. The ongoing Niles investigation involves fraudulent checks being deposited through the use of an ATM on Friday evenings after business hours which, then allows the suspect to draw off of the funds throughout the weekend. The fraudulent activity is then discovered on the following business day.
Surveillance video shows what appears to be a heavy set black female wearing sun glasses or making other attempts to conceal her face during each ATM transaction. The surveillance video has also identified a possible suspect vehicle, possibly identified as a Hyundai Sonata, 2011-2014 model, possibly gray in color.
The Michigan State Police is asking anyone with information to please contact the Niles Post detective bureau or call Crime Stoppers.
Watervliet City Police Activity
Watervliet Police Patrolman Horton was dispatched to a call of an intoxicated male in the alley off of N. Main St. on September 1. A suspect was located and found to be intoxicated and also had an outstanding warrant out of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department for trespassing.
The 55-year-old Watervliet Township man was lodged at the Berrien County Jail of the warrant for criminal trespassing.
Also on September 1, Patrolman Kusmierski made a traffic stop on S. Main St. & Silver Terrace for a vehicle with a moving violation. The driver, a 50-year-old Watervliet woman, was found to have a suspended driver’s license out of the State of Michigan. She was cited and released pending a court date in Berrien County Fifth District Court.
On September 4, Patrolman Horton was on patrol and observed a motor vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed through the intersection of St. Joseph Ave. and N. Main St.
Upon stopping the vehicle, it was found through the investigation that the driver was intoxicated. The 34-year-old female from Berwyn, Illinois was found to have a blood alcohol level of .245%. She was arrested for operating while intoxicated and was lodged at the Berrien County Jail pending a review by the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.
The Pokagon Tribal Police assisted with the incident.
Watervliet family displaced by fire
An early Sunday morning fire has displaced a family of two from their home on Thomas Dr. in Watervliet. The Watervliet Fire Department was dispatched at approximately 1 a.m. for a report of a fully involved structure.
Upon arrival, the south end of the home was found engulfed in flames. It was quickly determined that the occupants were safely outside awaiting the fire department’s arrival.
Firefighting crews were able to quickly bring the blaze under control, but not before the structure suffered extensive damage. The Watervliet Fire Department was assisted by the North Berrien Fire Rescue Department and the Hartford Fire Department.