By Jim Gormley
Special to Kentucky Forward
On Tuesday, June 26, Lexington police received a tip concerning suspicious activity from the manager of the Extended Stay Hotel at Richmond Road near Patchen Drive. While investigating the tip, according to an informed law enforcement source, officers — led by narcotics detectives Danny Page and Brian Smoot — conducted two traffic stops of a rental car and a taxi cab about 1:30 p.m.
Those traffic stops led to the discovery of 3,240 Oxycontin 30 mg pills (with a street value of more than $100,000), 45 Xanax pills, a small quantity of marijuana and $3,281 cash — and the arrests of five people. A Detroit couple, Kevin D. Petty and Victoria Howell-Simon, had rented two rooms at the hotel on Sunday, June 24. The Lexington residents, Amy Rhodes, her boyfriend, Eric Prince and Laurie Floyd were apparently using their local connections to help the two from Detroit sell the pills out of their hotel rooms for two days before they were caught.
In addition to the charges of First Degree “Trafficking in a Controlled Substance” and “Tampering with Physical Evidence” leveled against the other suspects, Amy L. Rhodes is also charged with “Endangering the Welfare of a Minor.” Ms. Rhodes had her young son in a child safety seat when her rental car was pulled over and the pills were discovered. A sixth person, Scotty Gilbert of Lexington, who was a passenger in the rental car, was given a criminal citation and summons, but was not arrested.
In recent years, the illegal distribution of pills, especially the well-known narcotic pain medicine Oxycontin, which was originally formulated for terminally ill cancer patients, has caused a plague of addiction in eastern Kentucky and throughout Appalachia. Investigations have shown that such pills, which normally require a doctor’s prescription, are being transported to Kentucky from other states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. In the past 15 years, several Kentucky doctors have also been criminally prosecuted for illegally writing thousands of prescriptions, without a medical necessity and outside the course of customary medical practices.
Recent statistics indicate that on average, 83 Kentuckians a month (about 3 each day) are dying of pill overdoses. In 2011, more Kentuckians died from pill overdoses than were killed in car wrecks. In some of the overdose cases, the deceased mixed the pills with other drugs and alcohol. Some analysts believe that the true number of overdose deaths is much higher, because in some cases, no autopsy is performed and the death is reported as a heart attack or other natural cause.
The June 26 seizure is believed to be the largest number of Oxycontin pills recovered in a single drug investigation in the history of Fayette County. Those arrested are being held at the Fayette County Detention Center on bonds of $25,000 or more.
The defendants received a preliminary hearing in Fayette District Court on Monday (July 1), where details of the investigation and the arrests were first publicly revealed. The cases were bound over to Fayette Circuit Court for the presentation to a Grand Jury for indictment, which may occur within a few weeks.
Given that such a large quantity of narcotics pills appears to have been transported to Lexington from Detroit, the D.E.A. and the U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky may prosecute the defendants under Federal drug laws, which generally have more severe penalties than are available under Kentucky law.
Lawyers for the defendants anticipate that following indictment in Circuit Court, they will file Motions to Suppress the Evidence. Those motions would require a Judge to determine whether there was probable cause for the police to have made the two traffic stops, which led to the discovery of the drugs and the arrests. The police did not have or seek search warrants, but say that Ms. Rhodes consented to the search of her rental car, leading to discovery of a large plastic bag of pills stuffed in the seat pocket behind the front passenger’s seat, within inches of where Mr. Petty was sitting in the rear seat.
Some of the drugs seized from the taxi cab were observed by the police in plain view, in a plastic bag, on the seat between the two women passengers. Upon questioning, one of the women admitted that she had other pills and cash inside her shorts. Following discovery of the pills during the first traffic stop, officers went to secure the two hotel rooms and were told that two women had just departed hurriedly from them in a taxi cab. The taxi company provided the police with the location of the cab containing the two women, Laurie Floyd and Victoria Howell-Simon, who were then questioned and arrested while in possession of more than 2,000 Oxycontin pills.
Jim Gormley, a Lexington native, is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia Law School. He practiced law in Atlanta for many years before coming home. Jim is now an author and serves a business and legal consultant to Kentucky attorneys, accountants and business owners. He is also a legal investigator and writer for Kentucky Forward, where he focuses his interest on unusual legal matters that may have been overlooked by other news providers.