BY MATT TROUTMAN email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — BELLAIRE — A string of Antrim County overdose deaths prompted a four-year drug trafficking probe that netted 31 convictions.
“In any rural county this is a lot of controlled substance activity,” said Antrim County Prosecutor James Rossiter. “Convictions weren’t simply for what a lot of people would determine or classify as ‘one-time’ delivery.”
In November, James Maurice Spangler, III, of Ellsworth, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver heroin and delivery of heroin. Rossiter said Wednesday that Spangler’s 480-month sentence marks the end of an investigative subpoena process that turned up a surprising gamut of drug crimes for a small northern Michigan county.
Detectives with the Traverse Narcotics Team and other local agencies uncovered dealers who hid heroin in their baby’s diaper bags, paid $20,000 for prescription morphine and a Grand Rapids attorney who smuggled drugs into Antrim County’s jail for a client.
The probe began with five overdose deaths between 2008 and 2009 that led the prosecutor’s office to petition the 86th District Court for an investigative subpoena to interview suspects and witnesses in drug-related cases. Rossiter said the overdoses showed drug cases were not “victimless crimes.”
“I took a count and from the first known overdose death we ended up with 10 children without a parent,” he said.
Authorities interviewed more than 40 witnesses between 2009 and 2010 and began prosecuting cases shortly afterward.
In total, Rossiter traced 21 convictions directly to the investigative subpoena process and said the investigation also had an impact on another 10 convictions from a methamphetamine investigation that began in December 2012.
Traverse Narcotics Team Det. Lt. Daniel King called the investigation a “group effort” between the Antrim County Prosecutor’s Office and sheriff’s department, Michigan State Police, and Mancelona and Central Lake police. He said the subpoena allowed authorities to hold dealers “accountable” for past crimes.
Rossiter said Antrim County used the investigative subpoena process in previous cases, but never to this scale. He said it should serve as an example to other rural counties in which individuals involved in drugs grew up together, making it more difficult for undercover officers to make controlled drug “buys.”
“If they didn’t grow up with you, they’re not going to let you into that circle,” Rossiter said. “This is a way to crack that circle.”