ROCKSPRINGS — Five years ago local agencies teamed up with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to form the Major Crimes Task Force of Gallia and Meigs Counties in an effort to better combat the drug epidemic and other crimes in the area.
On Thursday, representatives from the agencies involved held a press conference to update the public on the work of the task force since its beginning.
The Major Crimes Task Force of Gallia and Meigs Counties is made up of authorities from the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, Gallipolis Police Department, Middleport Police Department, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Gallia County Prosecutor’s Office, and Meigs County Prosecutor’s Office.
Since its formation, the task force has opened hundreds of investigations leading to the seizure of an estimated $7,896,000 in illegal drugs, such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. More than 200 people have been convicted on charges stemming from task force investigations. Task force members have served nearly 250 search warrants and seized drug proceeds in the amount of approximately $400,000 in cash.
Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood, Gallia County Sheriff Matt Champlin, Meigs County Prosecutor James K. Stanley and Deputy Attorney General for Law Enforcement Stephen Schumaker addressed the media regarding the efforts of the task force.
Schumaker commended the work of the agencies and individuals involved, stating that they have worked to send a message for dealers to stay away from the two counties.
Wood noted that the collaborative effort has allowed for things to be accomplished which could not have been done by the agencies working alone.
“The success of our task force is undeniable,” said Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood in a news release. “Jurisdictional lines become blurred when it’s about saving our community and getting the job done. Our approach will never be distracted. Be assured, if you are involved in illegal activity, we will meet.”
At the press conference, Wood noted that the task force not only works to investigate drug crimes, but also with recovery services to get those involved the help they need.
“Our relationship with recovery services is second to none,” said Wood.
He added that Issue 1, which appears on the November ballot, “scares us as a task force” with the potential to “cripple us.” As previously reported, local officials in Meigs and Gallia counties have spoken out against Issue 1, urging voters to vote “no.” Wood asked that everyone educate themselves on Issue 1 before voting.
Stanley noted that the task force is not about sending people to prison, but saving lives and changing lives.
“It has changed their lives; it has saved their lives,” said Stanley of some of the individuals brought before the court on drug charges as a result of task force investigations.
From the time the person is first brought in to court, until they have either voluntarily or by court order completed treatment, Stanley noted the difference is evident.
Champlin, who was first involved with the task force as an officer, and now as a sheriff, noted that the task force has been “hugely successful” while building the relationships and networking to combine resources.
The collaborative efforts have sent a shared message to those coming to the area that “if you come… we will find you.”
Champlin also applauded the efforts of the task force members.
“The benefit of having a major crimes task force focused on a multi-jurisdictional effort benefits the citizens of Gallia County in many ways,” said Champlin. “The hard-working team of agents that we have assigned to our task force work aggressively every day to eliminate crime from our region and safeguard our counties.”
Stanley added that approximately 50 percent of the cases presented to the grand jury in Meigs County each month are the result of task force investigations.
“The Gallia-Meigs Major Crimes Task Force has been vital to Meigs County. Without the tireless work of the task force, our community would be littered with countless high-level drug traffickers and serious, violent offenders,” said Stanley in the news release. “Because of task force investigations, Meigs County is much safer, and I am proud to work with them in the pursuit of justice and the loftier goal of a drug-free community.”
Schumaker explained that receiving the funding and the creation of a task force such as this one is not something that happens overnight.
Before the task force was established in 2013, the proposal was put together by local individuals and agencies, which then presented the plan to the Ohio Organized Crime investigation Commission for consideration.
Schumaker noted that they had “great hopes” the task force would succeed and that it has done so.
An example of a major case investigated by the task force is that of Antonio McIntosh. The Cincinnati man was sentenced to 33 years in prison after a task force investigation found that he was the leader of a large-scale drug trafficking ring operating out of a Gallia County business.
The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission assists local law enforcement agencies in combating organized crime and corrupt activities through the creation of multi-jurisdictional task forces. The commission is composed of members of the law enforcement community and is chaired by the Ohio Attorney General.
A portion of the information from a news release provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.