WHEELING — The U.S. attorney’s office in Wheeling announced 26 people have been indicted on various charges for drug activity that mostly occurred on Wheeling Island, the majority of which were committed by Ohio residents.
U.S. Attorney Bill Powell spoke briefly Thursday afternoon at a small press conference at Heritage Port, overlooking the banks of Wheeling Island, where Powell said drug activity had been most focused, although it also occurred elsewhere in the city.
Powell said a 50-count indictment had been brought down on 26 individuals, mostly Ohio residents.
“It became apparent to our investigators that Wheeling, and Wheeling Island specifically, had become a destination for Ohio-based drug trafficking organizations.”
Of the 26 people indicted, 20 are from Ohio, mostly in Columbus and Cleveland, Powell said.
“These individuals treated our communities as some kind of drug bazaar, and violated the safety of its communities. Drug trafficking often brings firearms, which are the tools of the trade, and other crime incidental to drug trafficking enterprises in our neighborhoods, and they did so here.”
Powell said residents deserve to feel safe in their own neighborhoods, while trafficking activity was happening at several protected spaces, such as Madison Elementary and playgrounds around the island.
“No neighborhood or community, no matter where it’s located, no matter what part of town, no matter the economic status within that community, will ever be surrendered to drug trafficking organizations. Every law-abiding citizen, no matter their station, deserves a safe place to live,” he said. “… The full weight of federal law enforcement will be pursuing not only the individuals who commit these crimes, but also those who provide the means for them to do so. … We will not tolerate those who come here and use our neighborhoods as the center for their criminal activity.”
Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said he was pleased with the communication that took place to bring forth the indictments, including the Ohio Valley Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, Drug Enforcement Administration, West Virginia State Police, Ohio County Sheriff’s Office, and the Wheeling Police Department. The U.S. Marshals Service, Columbus Police Department Gang Crimes Unit, the Martins Ferry Police Department, and the Bellaire Police Department also assisted.
“I want to thank the community. Without their attention and their dedication, and the even flow of information, many of these indictments would not be possible.”
Schwertfeger was happy to announce that as of Wednesday, the police department had issued their first drug house abatement violation. The drug house ordinance, introduced last year, aims to provide mechanisms for police to order landlords and homeowners to cease ‘vice’ crimes on the premises after documented evidence of either two misdemeanors or one felony occurring on the property. Such abatement typically means eviction, but Schwertfeger said other measures were possible as well.
“It was a huge delay, as that ordinance passed roughly a year ago, and we have six or seven more in the hopper. We’re examining very closely the residences involved in these multiple indictments,” he said. “We will be working with the community to help them help us clean up our neighborhoods.”
As of Thursday, the following indictments were released:
— Jennifer Marie Cuffman, 32, of Martins Ferry
— Carlos Leeper, 57, of Wheeling
— Andre Cornell Diggs, 38, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio
— Jalen Deshon Dalton, 27, of Cleveland
— Susan Manuel, 57, of Wheeling
— Quaison Maurice Harris, 35, of Willoughby Hills, Ohio
— Zachary James Parsons, 30, of Wheeling
— Erick Lamont Stanback Singleton, 26, of Cleveland
— Matthew Trabert, 37, of Wheeling
— Willie Johnson, of Cleveland
— Kristen Hoffler, 24, of Wheeling
— Larry A. Cuffman, 60, of Martins Ferry
Fourteen others are still at large and their identities have not yet been released.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox