WHEELING - The Ohio Valley Drug & Violent Crime Task Force arrested a Pennsylvania man and seized $133,000 and 43 pounds of marijuana Thursday in what officials are calling one of the largest drug busts in the agency's history.
Ryan Rieger, 35, of Elizabeth, Pa., faces federal charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana after allegedly purchasing that marijuana from a confidential informant at a Wheeling hotel.
Rieger allegedly arrived at the informant's room at the Spring Hill Suites in the Woodsdale section of the city Thursday morning with the cash, which he exchanged for the marijuana. Officers said they arrested Rieger and seized the drugs and cash while he was attempting to exit the hotel.
The operation began Wednesday, when law enforcement in Illinois discovered the marijuana during a traffic stop and learned it was bound for Wheeling. The suspect in the stop agreed to cooperate with police and meet Rieger as planned, prompting the drug task force to work around the clock to set up the arrest.
"The task force officers have worked nonstop over the past 24 hours to make sure that the drugs and cash were seized and that the suspect was arrested," U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said during a press conference at the Ohio County Sheriff's Department on Thursday afternoon.
Ihlenfeld said the drugs seized Thursday are stronger than typical marijuana.
"The drugs involved in this case are believed to have been grown hydroponically, which means that it is more potent than your average marijuana and commands a much higher price," he said. "It is especially critical that we keep this type of substance from being distributed in our community."
Wheeling Police Chief Robert Matheny and Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler commended the officers for their work, with both commenting on the amount of collaboration that went into the operation.
Following his arrest, Rieger was transported to the Federal Building in Wheeling and made an initial appearance via video before U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Joel. He is entitled to a preliminary hearing within 21 days.
In addition to the cash seized, the U.S. Attorney's Office will seek forfeiture of the 2009 Toyota Tundra Rieger drove to Wheeling. Any successful forfeitures will be distributed to the law enforcement agencies involved in the operation.
The drug task force will continue to lead the investigation and consists of officers from the Wheeling Police and Ohio County sheriff's departments and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Also assisting in the investigation are the West Virginia State Police-Bureau of Criminal Investigations, the DEA-Fairview Heights Resident Office in Fairview Heights, Ill., and the Pennsylvania State Police.
The arrest has sparked additional investigations, Ihlenfeld added, saying Pennsylvania State Police are acting on tips they received from local officials.