The Times West Virginian

October 24, 2012

Operation Blue Haze sends strong message, leads to safer community

Times West Virginian

— Mission accomplished.

Thanks to the efforts of a special undercover investigation, Marion County’s streets are a little safer.

The investigation, known as Operation Blue Haze, targeted drug and firearm trafficking within Marion County. It began in May when the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Fairmont Police Department conducted sweeping arrests — warrants were filed for 53 people, and 35 individuals had been arrested as of the first afternoon.

In the five months since the start of Operation Blue Haze, each of the 53 individuals has been indicted for criminal activity. Fifty-two of them have been convicted on drug and gun charges, and 51 have pleaded guilty in federal court. One has pleaded guilty in state court. And on Oct. 12, the last federal defen­dant pleaded guilty in federal court in Clarksburg.

In all, more than 20 firearms and $100,000 worth of drugs have been taken into custody. The case yielded pistols, revolvers, rounds of ammunition, ballistics vests, crack cocaine, powder cocaine, marijuana and prescription pills, and the individ­uals convicted through the inves­tigation had been the subjects of more than 250 prior arrests.

Three of the individuals who were convicted have already been sentenced. The remaining defendants will face sentencing between now and Jan. 13, 2013. And because many of the defendants have long criminal histories, it’s likely they will face significant prison sentences.

The ultimate result? A safer Marion County.

As U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II explained at a press conference last week, the case will have a long-term impact on the community.

“We made the streets of Fairmont safer because of all that we took off the streets — all of the guns, all of the drugs and all of the people that were committing bad acts in this town and this county,” Ihlenfeld said, adding that he hopes the results of Operation Blue Haze will deter others from participating in criminal behavior in the area.

Resident Agent in Charge Dewayne Haddix, of the ATF, confirmed that the investigation accomplished exactly what it set out to do.

“The goal was to improve the quality of life for the fine citizens of Marion County and the surrounding communities,” Haddix said. “That goal has been achieved.”

That sentiment was echoed by Fairmont Police Chief Kelley Moran, who said Operation Blue Haze has been instrumental in setting a precedent for the future of Fairmont.

“As a result of this investiga­tion, we not only received con­victions but we also received a lower crime rate,” he said. “The number of shootings and the number of robberies in Fairmont have decreased over the past six months.

“It sends a message that the city is going to work hard to clean up the streets,” he said.

And isn’t that the ultimate goal? After all, a safer community is something that benefits each of us, both now and in the future.