SNOW HILL — The first wave of cases following the break-up of a major heroin distribution ring in northern Worcester County late last fall started hitting the courts last week with varying results including some hefty sentences for some defendants.
In late November, the Ocean City Police Department rounded up 26 suspects wanted in connection with a major heroin distribution ring after a Worcester County grand jury issued indictments for the suspects. The OCPD Vice-Narcotics Unit for several weeks had been conducting an aggressive and extensive undercover illegal drug investigation involving multiple suspects throughout Ocean City called “Operation Smackdown.”
The investigation was initiated by the department due to an overwhelming increase in heroin abuse in the resort area during the past year. The investigation resulted in 72 drug buys of heroin, cocaine, illegal prescription medications and marijuana, although the majority of the drug purchases involved heroin.
In November, OCPD narcotics detectives went before a Worcester County grand jury and were able to obtain indictments on 23 suspects for various drug distribution charges. OCPD arrested additional wanted suspects as a result of the indictments. In all, 26 suspects were arrested, three vehicles were seized and 110 bags of heroin were confiscated, along with five bags of cocaine, five replica handguns and $656 in cash.
The first wave of court cases for defendants arrested following “Operation Smackdown” started hitting the Worcester County Circuit Court over the last two weeks with several of the defendants convicted or accepting plea bargains in their cases.
For example, Michael Helmbright, 41, of Ocean City, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of heroin and was sentenced to 10 years, all but five years of which was then suspended. Helmbright was also fined $500 and placed on probation for two years upon his release.
Christopher Fitzpatrick, 32, of Ocean City, pleaded guilty to distribution of oxycodone and was sentenced to four years in jail with all but one suspended. Fitzpatrick was also fined $500 and placed on probation for two years. Erik Curry, 41, of Berlin, pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin and was sentenced to seven years, all but 18 months of which was suspended. Tori DeCelles, 21, of Ocean City, pleaded guilty last week to distribution of heroin and was sentenced to seven years, all but six years of which was suspended. DeCelles was fined $500, but was also placed on probation for five years pending her release.