A man who split time between Detroit and Hazard and had access to what a judge called “mind-boggling quantities of drugs” allegedly headed a conspiracy that imported millions of dollars worth of pain pills to sell in Eastern Kentucky.
Rolando K. Johnson, 51, was one of 10 people indicted in federal court Thursday.
Johnson allegedly helped feed Eastern Kentucky’s crippling drug problem for more than a decade, getting pain pills from sources in other states, then either selling them through his network to drug abusers or wholesaling them to other drug dealers.
The drug ring brought in thousands of pills each month to Perry County, grossing $5 million between October 2010 and July 2017, according to the indictment.
Those charged with Johnson were Celena Jones, Pacha Patrick, Josephine Amburgey, Allison Feltner, Brandon “Worm” Woolum, Malik “Leek Hustle” Dillard-Cribbs, Joseph G. Combs, Cantania R. Wells and Tedrick Little.
The indictment did not list their addresses. Information in another document indicated most are from Kentucky, though Wells lived in Texas and supplied bulk quantities of pills to Johnson.
Wells shipped pills to Johnson or his associates by mail or carriers such as Federal Express, the indictment said.
Johnson also allegedly had multiple sources for pills in Kentucky, Michigan and Canada, according to one court order.
One way drug traffickers amass pills is to set themselves up as wholesalers in areas near pain clinics, buying pills from people who receive them through prescriptions, Richard A.J. Dalrymple, a task-force officer with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said in an affidavit.
The people named in the indictment are charged with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, or 30 for someone with a prior drug conviction.
Johnson, Jones, Patrick and Wells also are charged with conspiring to launder money.
Johnson, who said he worked as a videographer, had houses in Detroit but also kept residences in Hazard, according to a court document.
He was arrested in Detroit. Police found 783 oxycodone pills when they searched his house there, as well as methadone, heroin and OxyContin pills, according to an order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub.
Majzoub ordered Johnson held without bond pending trial, saying he had five prior drug-related charges in Detroit, Dayton, Ohio, and West Virginia, and had spent his adult life allegedly selling drugs.
“He has access to enormous sums of money which cannot be explained by his purported means of employment, and he has access to mind-boggling quantities of drugs, which he distributes by selling and then laundering his proceeds through nominees,” Majzoub said in the order.
Johnson allegedly had associates buy money orders with drug proceeds to send out of state to be cashed.
A man who had been a street-level drug dealer told police that he first met Johnson 2002, according to the affidavit from Dalrymple.
The witness, Elisha Combs, said that Johnson would come to Kentucky for about a month at a time to sell pills before returning to Detroit, the affidavit said.
Combs said Johnson later started spending more time in Hazard and increasing his illegal sales, Dalrymple wrote.
Combs estimated he sold 400 to 500 pills a day between 2009 and 2012 that he received from Johnson in Hazard, according to the affidavit.
Another witness, Tedrick Little, who is charged with Johnson, told authorities that he started buying pills from Johnson in 2004.
Little said that by 2012, he was buying $85,000 to $90,000 worth of pills from Johnson a month to sell, according to Dalrymple’s sworn statement.
Little said that two times after he got out of prison after serving time for selling drugs, Johnson “fronted” him oxycodone pills to help him get back in business, meaning he gave Little the pills without requiring payment in advance, according to Dalrymple.
In a January 2016 interview, Little said he was paying Johnson $26 a pill for 30-milligram oxycodone pills to re-sell.
Rising abuse of heroin and fentanyl have pushed up the number of drug overdoses in Kentucky in recent years, but abuse of prescription pills remains a significant problem, contributing to a record 1,404 deaths in 2016.