WINCHESTER —After an undercover investigation that was launched nearly a year ago, Winchester police began a sweep Tuesday night targeting 51 people for drug trafficking charges.
By Wednesday evening, investigators said they had arrested 36 people, leaving 15 other arrest warrants that needed to be served.
Many of the people were arrested for allegedly trying to resell prescription medication obtained from Florida, said Captain Harvey Craycraft of the Winchester police department.
Twenty-eight were charged with trafficking an unspecified controlled substance. Investigators say the drugs being sold were painkillers, such as oxycodone, Percocet and methadone. One man was charged with trafficking cocaine, Craycraft said.
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The 29 defendants were arraigned Wednesday via video from the Clark County Detention Center. Clark District Judge Earl-Ray Neal accepted not-guilty pleas for all of the defendants. Neal scheduled their preliminary hearings for Feb. 10.
Bond was set at $15,000 in most cases, but several were reduced to $7,500 or $10,000.
Sgt. Donald Skinner said Winchester police discovered the Florida drug connection through their investigation and interviews after the arrests were made. Skinner estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of prescription pills sold illegally in Kentucky come from Florida and surrounding states that don't have a tracking system for pills.
"In Florida, all you have to do is get an MRI and you can get these prescriptions," he said.
Skinner said it's not uncommon for four or five people to split the cost of a ride to Florida to load a car with pills, which isn't illegal, because the prescriptions are in their name.
"The only thing you can get them for is when they start trafficking — start selling them — which takes a lot more involvement," he said.
Skinner said getting warrants and conducting busts take time because the courts require an "airtight case" to prosecute the sellers.
"If you pick someone up without making controlled buys, you basically just get a possession charge, which doesn't result in very much jail time or rehab time," he said.