The Kokomo Police Department on Tuesday revealed details about a five-month investigation that led to its drug task force arresting two dozen people and seizing hundreds of grams of illicit substances.

The task force in May 2019 initiated what was titled Operation Fastlane, conducting approximately 70 controlled-buy investigations that relied heavily on the work of at least one confidential informant.

The operation resulted in 77 felony charges filed with the Howard County Prosecutor’s office. The charges range from maintaining a common nuisance and unlawful possession of a syringe to dealing counts involving methamphetamine, narcotic drugs and controlled substances.

Twenty-four people have so far been arrested – charges were filed in mid-November – while investigators seized 349 grams of methamphetamine; 25 grams of controlled substances; 13 grams of heroin; and two grams of cocaine.

“It’s our drug task force’s constant focus on being proactive in these cases and these investigations,” said KPD Capt. Tonda Cockrell, who emphasized that investigators are “always behind the scenes working on these types of cases.”

“That’s the message: We are constantly working to that end, to take drugs off the streets.”

Cockrell noted that the people arrested as part of Operation Fastlane are not part of a single drug organization, like was seen in Operation Law and Order, which paired federal and local investigators to dismantle a drugs and firearms ring with ties to criminal activity in Georgia.

With many cases like Operation Fastlane, she explained, the drug task force will work with a single confidential informant or multiple informants to create cases over a stretch of time.

Those cases are then bundled and sent to the Prosecutor’s office, at which time investigators are likely no longer working with the informant or informants.

One probable-cause affidavit – filed Nov. 14 against James Terrell Perry, 32, arrested on five counts of dealing methamphetamine – detailed that process.

The affidavit, written by Detective Aaron Tarrh, notes that on the afternoon of May 21 a confidential informant met with Perry, who was later identified by the informant in a photo array.

The pair, Perry and the informant, had before the meeting exchanged Facebook messages to set up the drug deal. In the messages, Perry agreed to sell the informant two grams of meth for $80.

He then instructed the informant to go to the intersection of Indiana and Jackson streets for the transaction.

There, the drug deal went off without a hitch, the informant handing over $80 for “a clear, knotted, plastic bag containing a clear, crystal-like substance.” The substance was shortly after handed over to Tarrh and later field-tested positive for methamphetamine.

Similar exchanges would take place between the informant and Perry on May 23, May 24 and Sept. 16, the day of Perry’s arrest.

The transactions ranged from $300 for 14 grams to $200 for 10.5 grams and $100 for nearly 4 grams of meth. The meets were always set up through text messages or Facebook messenger.

The operation, meanwhile, once again highlights the presence of meth in Kokomo and Howard County.

Concerns about meth, which in recent years have been largely set aside amidst the opioid crisis, are rising to the forefront as officials say the drug is in the midst of a resurgence.

Data released by the Howard County jail showed an increase in meth-related charges from 243 in 2016 to 407 in 2018, while information provided by Community Howard Regional Health in Kokomo also showed an increase in the substance frequency used by addicts seeking treatment.

In the 2018 state fiscal year (July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018), just over 45% of people seeking treatment were diagnosed with opioid addictions, compared to 19% of people with an addiction to stimulants.

By the 2019 fiscal year (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019), there had been a shift: 32% of treatment-seekers were now being diagnosed with stimulant addictions, compared to 28% with opioid-based addictions, according to figures provided by Matt Oliver, executive director of operations for Community Howard’s outpatient Behavioral Health Services.

“I think you start to see that shift back in 2018, and you’re clearly seeing it through 2019. If I look at 2017, 2018 and 2019 data, I’m seeing a shift that was moving toward opiates that it’s now moving back away from opiates,” said Oliver about Community Howard’s findings.

“So by the beginning of 2019 I can say we’re definitely seeing an uptick in meth use and a decrease in opiate use by the people coming in the door seeking treatment.”

In an interview, Cockrell acknowledged that any operation takes the direction of whatever drugs an informant or group of informants are able to purchase, and in this case that drug was primarily meth.

“I think that with anything you see different trends, and right now that was the trend of this investigation. It was primarily meth-related,” she noted.

On the loose

Eluding police are five people investigators were still attempting to locate at the time of a media release distributed Tuesday morning.

Each of the five people have warrants for their arrest resulting from Operation Fastlane.

They include (each is from Kokomo unless otherwise noted): Ronald Dean Shue, 35; Paul Patrick Clark, 42; Sean Patrick Rogers, 30; Brittany Jean Haney, 30; and Steven Douglas Hilligoss, 38, Greentown.

Shue is charged with dealing a narcotic drug, while Clark, Rogers and Haney each face meth dealing charges. Hilligoss is charged with dealing in a schedule-three controlled substance.

The cases remain active for investigation, the department noted.

Anyone with additional information on the location of the remaining five suspects is asked to contact Tarrh at 765-456-7204 or the Kokomo Police Department Hotline at 765-456-7017.

Residents may qualify for a cash reward by calling Central Indiana Crime Stoppers at 1-800-262-TIPS with an anonymous tip.

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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