WELLSBURG - Three Brooke County men were arrested Thursday following drug-related indictments returned by a federal grand jury that area officials credit to the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Investigation and a revamped Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug Task Force.
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II said Joseph Brandon Satathite, 26, and David McGowan, 45, both of Follansbee; and Mark Anthony Fritz, 26, of Wellsburg; were indicted for conspiring to distribute heroin from Jan. 1 to March 22 in Follansbee.
Satathite also has been indicted for distributing the drug within 1,000 feet of Follansbee Middle School and using a telephone to facilitate the distribution.
TASK FORCE — The Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug Task Force has been revamped. Shown discussing changes are: Clockwise, from left, Hancock County Prosecutor Jim Davis; Hancock County Sheriff Mike White; West Virginia State Police Sgt. Dave Robinson; David F. Cross; assistant Brooke County prosecutor Cross; Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson; and Darren Hanna, Brooke County sheriff’s deputy: and standing, Weirton Police Chief Bruce Marshall and U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II. — Warren Scott
He, McGowan and Fritz also were indicted for aiding and abetting each other in the crime.
Ihlenfeld said officials seek the arrests of James "G" Lester, 23, of Pittsburgh and Tanesa Ceara Clark, 19, of McKees Rocks, Pa., who also were named in the indictments.
In an unrelated case, Jesus "Jessy" Espitia Aboyte, 38, of East Liverpool and Pablo Esquivel, 29, no address given, were indicted for distributing cocaine in Newell in late 2010.
Aboyte has been arrested on unrelated charges, while officers seek Esquivel.
Ihlenfeld and several law enforcement officials from Brooke and Hancock counties and Weirton gathered at the office of Brooke County Prosecutor David B. Cross Thursday to announce a revamping of the drug task force shared by the three.
Formed in 1992, the group was comprised of representatives of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Brooke and Hancock county prosecutor's offices and sheriff's departments and Weirton Police. The group has conducted undercover investigations of illegal drug activity that have led to prosecutions in local circuit courts and occasionally, federal court.
Ihlenfeld said in an effort to increase the task force's effectiveness, a senior agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration has assumed the role of coordinator, additional manpower has been added and informal agreements have been made with officials in Follansbee and Windsor Heights to share information about drug trafficking in those areas.
Hancock County Sheriff Mike White said the counties' smaller police departments will be more involved in the past, and they may be approached about naming a liaison to the task force.
White said the role of smaller police departments in fighting illegal drugs is underscored by the fact that some of the grand jury's recent indictments resulted from local police arrests of individuals driving under the influence of alcohol.
David F. Cross, assistant Brooke County prosecutor, said Ihlenfeld's previous experience as an assistant prosecutor for Brooke and Ohio counties has resulted in him being responsive to handling drug-related cases at the federal level.
Ihlenfeld said he will be adding a special assistant U.S. attorney to keep up with an increase in cases he anticipates from the reorganized task force.
Hancock County Prosecutor Jim Davis said the task force also will be working to strengthen relationships with law enforcement agencies in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which often are the source of illegal drugs.
Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson said officials behind the revamped task force understand the drugs emanate from many independent dealers and intend to expedite their prosecution.
West Virginia State Police Sgt. Dave Robinson said, "The officers (from various law enforcement agencies) have always worked well together on the field and we're starting to get that at higher levels, too."