Police bust drug ring they say brought more than 50,000 pills into Pike County last year

bestep@herald-leader.comNovember 5, 2011 

Police have arrested three members of an interstate drug ring that allegedly brought more than 50,000 pain pills into Pike County with the past year.

The conspiracy involved importing pills from Michigan, said Dan Smoot, deputy director for Operation UNITE.

Police arrested Donnie "DK" Kinder, 79, of Mouthcard, which is in Pike County; Brenda Jo Branham, 50, of Albion, Mich.; and Janice Carol Branham, 54, of Springport, Mich., on federal charges, according to a news release.

"We delivered a major hit with these arrests," Smoot said. "It was definitely a multi-million dollar operation."

Pain clinics in Florida have been a major source of drugs flowing in Kentucky through interstate pill pipelines in recent years, but Michigan also has been a key source, court records show.

Many people in Eastern Kentucky have relatives in Michigan because people moved from Appalachia decades ago to look for work in Midwest factories, Smoot said.

People work through those family connections to bring drugs to Kentucky after obtaining pills in Michigan through large-scale "doctor-shopping" — going to more than one physician to get prescriptions, Smoot said.

UNITE detectives began investigating Kinder in October after hearing reports that he was selling a large amount of pills, according to a news release.

Detectives oversaw several undercover pill purchases at his house.

Officers searched his house Oct. 31, seizing about 80 methadone pills and $19,650 in cash, according to the news release.

Through the investigation, police learned two Michigan women allegedly were bringing the pills to Pike County for Kinder and others to sell.

On Friday, four detectives from UNITE and six agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Brenda and Janice Branham as they brought pills into the Mouthcard area, according to the news release.

Police seized more than 2,000 pills. Most were oxycodone pain pills, but the pills included methadone and Xanax, UNITE said in the release.

Smoot said similar deliveries were being made almost every week.

Federal authorities have assumed prosecution of the case.

The investigation is continuing, Smoot said.

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