26 indicted in drug trafficking investigation

WHEELING — A federal grand jury has indicted 26 people from Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia in seven cases for the trafficking of fentanyl, cocaine base and methamphetamine.

Wheeling resident Quavonte Pugh, 28, and 11 others were named in the 16-count superseding indictment charging them with the operation of a drug trafficking enterprise that spanned from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the Ohio Valley.

The indictments resulted from a comprehensive investigation that included five federal search warrants executed on March 29 at locations in West Virginia and Ohio. During the searches, officers seized controlled substances, firearms and cash from the residences of those involved in the scheme.

Pugh, also known as “Q,” “Q Man” and “Brother,” is accused of being at the center of the drug trafficking operation. According to United States Attorney William Ihlenfeld, Pugh allegedly had been receiving shipments of pills from Las Vegas and then sending money back to pay for the drugs via Walmart’s online money transfer system.

“That discovery led to further investigation as to who he was distributing to in this area,” Ihlenfeld said Tuesday, adding the investigation began over a year ago. “It took a while to figure out ultimately who was distributing to and who was working with who, so it took several months after that to come up with what we have today.”

The indictment also includes Dalen Cage, 30, of Las Vegas; James Galloway, 28, of Bellaire, Ohio; James Kidder, 47, of Martins Ferry, Ohio; Brady McKinley, 45, of Adena, Ohio; Maria Cunningham, 46, Quamya Pugh, 25, Steven Aldridge, 26, Caviezz Cunningham, 29, Daryl Smith, 50, Tyrique Anthony Davis, 28 and Matthew Clemont, 31, all of Wheeling.

Those included in the indictment were allegedly involved in the operation to varying degrees. According to Ihlenfeld, Cage allegedly was the supplier of drugs to Pugh, while others involved redistributed drugs across the Ohio Valley.

Ihlenfeld added that some in the indictment have been “repeat customers” within the criminal justice system.

“There are some people with lengthy criminal histories in this indictment and others in this indictment that have done a lot of harm in the Ohio Valley over the years,” noted Ihlenfeld. “There are some violent criminals that regularly engaged in drug trafficking in this indictment, so we are addressing these individuals who just continue to engage in criminal activity.”

Following the arraignment of those indicted, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Mazzone will set dates for discovery deadlines, pre-trial conferences and trials for defendants. Ihlenfeld noted that the defendants have the opportunity to resolve the case before trial through a plea deal.

“There are some people in this indictment who have a significant criminal history that’s going to cause them to have a longer sentence [if they are convicted] than the individuals who have very little criminal history,” explained Ihlenfeld. “We have a variety of ages as well (in the indictment), so the younger people tend not to have the same type of criminal history as the older individuals. At the end of the day, the judge is going to look at the criminal history and the drug weight and then make a determination along with other factors.”

To track down the individuals in the indictment, an Ohio Valley Drug Task Force, including members of the Wheeling Police Department, the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office, West Virginia State Police and the Drug Enforcement Agency, collaborated to obtain logistical surveillance and execute the five search warrants.

“The Ohio Valley Drug Task Force deserves the lion’s share of the praise for that investigation for distributing the drug supply in the region and by dismantling the organization,” noted Ihlenfeld, who also drew attention to other agencies who assisted on the case, including the Brooke, Hancock, Marshall and Belmont County sheriffs’ offices as well as the Weirton and Moundsville police departments.

“The great thing about law enforcement here in the region is the cooperative spirit that exists,” said Ihlenfeld. “I sat over at the Task Force on many occasions and saw when they needed to go up the river to Hancock County or across the river to Jefferson County, all the agencies were there to help. Because of that cooperative spirit, we were able to pursue sophisticated targets and more sophisticated organizations.”

For the Pugh case, this cross-county cooperation allowed the task force to track bills being shipped from Las Vegas to Wheeling and money going from Wheeling to Las Vegas via the Walmart peer-to-peer cash system.

The task force also tracked cocaine being shipped from the southwest border of the U.S. and money being flown from the Ohio Valley to Texas to pay for the cocaine.

“There was a lot of automobile travel up and down the Ohio River by members of this organization to distribute cocaine to communities in Ohio and West Virginia,” added Ihlenfeld, who noted the organization allegedly was one of the primary suppliers of cocaine for the region.

Wheeling Police Department Chief Shawn Schweretfeger, who served as a member of the Ohio Valley Drug Task Force, said that the five search warrants executed on March 29 recovered a “large quantity of narcotics and firearms.”

The impact of executing the search warrants and ending the drug trafficking enterprise at its source has already been felt in Wheeling, added Schwertfeger. He explained that the overdoses reported in the city for the first five months of 2024 demonstrated “significant reductions from last year.”

“I’m pretty sure we’re upwards of a 40-to-50% reduction (in overdoses),” said Schwertfeger. “When you get 26 indictments and the types of drugs referenced in this case are coming here from Mexico and from out west, once you’ve taken out that source, you’re going to see a reduction.”

Apart from curbing overdoses and addiction in the valley, Schwertfeger emphasized the indictment will make the area safer overall.

“We’re not just talking about overdoses, because with drug trafficking organizations comes violence,” said Schwertfeger. “We’ve recovered some firearms that potentially could be used or may have been used. We’re still investigating that and looking into those firearms with our friends and partners at the (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms), but reducing that sort of criminal activity in our communities is always what we’re trying to do.”

Ihlenfeld added that with many names in the indictment having long criminal histories attached to them, preventing them from committing additional crimes in the area will also make the community safer.

“This indictment doesn’t mean the drug problems go away, which is why I think it’s always important to talk about prevention and treatment and the need for us to collectively, as a society, do better with that,” added Ihlenfeld. “I am optimistic that we’re going to find some solutions that will help support the enforcement pieces.”


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