12 arrested in Spokane raids in connection with alleged West Coast drug ring

Law enforcement officers in Spokane, Los Angeles and Western Washington raided 16 locations early Thursday and arrested 41 people in connection with an alleged conspiracy to distribute OxyContin, a widely abused prescription painkiller.

Nine people taken into custody in Spokane were arraigned in U.S. District Court and ordered held for bail hearings.

Authorities said that a total of 12 defendants were arrested in Spokane this morning, meaning that three of them have yet to appear.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said the raids are the result of a joint oxycontin investigation in Eastern Washington and Los Angeles.

Underwood said this morning that “we still have some locations that are not secure.”

Agencies involved include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Spokane Regional Drug Task Force, the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies.

Appearing in court Thursday morning in Spokane were Arvin Terrell Carmen, Amber Cherokee Branch, Katriel Marquis Bulley, Brandon Leigh Chavez, David Emile Colbert, Sally Blakely Guthrie, Marlon Deshawn Johnson, Harry Joseph Johnwell Jr. and Mercedes Leshawn Reeves. All were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs.

Three of the people face additional charges.

Carmen was charged with continuing criminal enterprise. Bulley was charged with one count of distribution of a controlled substance. Johnson was charged with two counts of distributing a controlled substance.

Guthrie is the owner of three Flamin’ Joe’s restaurants in Spokane County, which specialize in chicken wings and beers.

A large number of federal officers were in Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno’s courtroom today providing security.

The nine defendants were brought into the court in three groups and the court room was locked in between each of the group appearances.

The federal prosecutor said that the case involves use of wiretaps that led to a considerable volume of transcripts that were being prepared for release to defense attorneys.

The action stems from a 32-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Spokane in January.

Prior to one of the arraignments this morning, one defendant could be heard asking how long the case had been under investigation. A federal defender told him that was not an issue before the court during the arraignment, which involves reading charges and advising defendants of their rights.

Imbrogno entered not guilty pleas for each of the defendants.

Imbrogno said she was prepared to appoint public federal defenders for the defendants, although defendant Carmen is having a private attorney appointed to his case to avoid any conflict of interest in preparing the defense.

The government said it is seeking criminal forfeiture of $20 million, which is the alleged amount of proceeds obtained as result of the suspected activity.

U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby in Spokane in a press release commended the cooperation of the agency’s involved.

A Seattle agent for the DEA said the alleged drug ring moved between Los Angeles and Spokane and provided painkillers for people with addictions.

The investigation qualified as an organized crime drug task force investigation that provides supplemental federal funding.

A press release listed 21 government agencies that provided information to the case, including Spokane sheriff and police officers and Washington State Patrol.