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Arrest total in Amherst County drug sting rises to 96

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Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2012 9:46 am

UPDATE WEDNESDAY, 10:18 A.M.

Amherst County deputies on Wednesday morning announced they had added five more to their extensive list of drug-related arrests resulting from "Operation Avalanche."

The total now stands at 96 arrests.

UPDATE, TUESDAY, 9:48 A.M.

Amherst County authorities have now arrested 91 people so far in "Operation Avalanche."

UPDATE:

Seventy-seven people have been arrested as of Monday evening in a massive drug bust in Amherst County.

Lt. Greg Turner, of the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office, said in a news release there still are 32 people left to locate and arrest, stemming from the drug roundup that began early Sunday.

The bust, being called “Operation Avalanche,” included the drugs cocaine, marijuana, hydrocodone, oxycodone and lorazepam.

This is Amherst County’s largest ever drug sweep, Turner said.

According to the sheriff’s office, some of the drug buys happened within 1,000 feet of these schools: Amelon Elementary, Temple Christian School, Step by Step Early Learning Center, Central Virginia Community College, Amherst Elementary School and Central Elementary School.

Two of the suspects were school-age teenagers, but none of the sales occurred inside a school.

Selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school is considered a second offence, in addition to the sale itself.

A multi-jurisdictional grand jury met in Bedford on Dec. 7 and issued sealed indictments. Those indictments were what the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office began serving Sunday morning. The majority of those arrested are from Amherst County.

A direct indictment is when an investigator appears before a grand jury and charges someone rather than appearing before a magistrate to obtain a warrant. The cases will be heard in circuit court.

SUNDAY:

Police officers executing Amherst County’s largest-ever drug sweep rounded up about 70 suspects Sunday, but Sheriff L.J. Ayers said he feared investigators had only scratched the surface of Amherst’s illegal drug business.

Another 40 arrests were expected in coming days, based on a special grand jury’s indictments of 111 people who are accused of a total of 243 offenses.

The roundup was so massive because the number of people addicted to drugs is “going through the roof,” increasing each year, Ayers said.

Drug suppliers step up to meet the county’s lucrative demand, the sheriff said.

The painkiller oxycodone, for example, sells for $5 to $6 per tablet on the street, he said.

“The drug activity in our community is just, like in any other community, it’s out of control,” Ayers said at a news conference.

“We are just doing what we can to try to curtail the sale of drugs,” Ayers said.

Responding to a question about whether the war on drugs is being lost, Ayers said:

“I can’t say it’s being won by any means, that’s for sure.”

Still, he said he hoped the sheer number of indictments would discourage some dealers and lead to a smaller number of drug offenses next year.

“Hopefully this will be a deterrent for people. We are not going tolerate it in Amherst County. That’s the bottom line,” Ayers said.

Additional charges were filed in some cases Sunday after police found more drugs in the homes where suspects were arrested.

None of the suspects resisted arrest, Ayers said.

Joseph Charles Pallotti Sr., a Nelson County business owner who lives in Monroe, was arrested Sunday on eight counts of selling oxycodone and hydrocodone painkillers in Amherst County, some of them within 1,000 feet of a school.

Pallotti operates the Little Texas convenience store on U.S. 29 just north of the Amherst County line, Ayers said.

Two of the suspects were school-age teenagers.

None of the sales occurred inside a school.

But the sheriff’s office said drug sales occurred within 1,000 feet of these schools:

Amelon Elementary, Temple Christian School, Step by Step Early Learning Center, Central Virginia Community College, Amherst Elementary School and Central Elementary School.

Ayers said his office’s undercover investigators noticed that in the past two years the dealers have paid little attention to whether they were selling near a school or how young their customers were.

“They look at the green part of it, and that’s the dollar,” Ayers said.

Officers spent about $25,000 making the undercover drug purchases, said Amherst Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Turner.

Prosecutors hope to recoup those funds when defendants make restitution as part of their plea agreements, Turner said.

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