By Ryan Smith
A $1 million, armed-to-the-teeth methamphetamine-making operation that went underground — literally — was busted Friday with 23 arrests across Venango and Mercer counties, according to state and local law enforcers.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced the investigation, known as “Operation Cave-In,” focused on a sophisticated meth lab and pill-shopping operation allegedly run by Rockne K. (Rocky) Barber Sr., 62, of 271 Henderson Road, near Stoneboro in Venango County.
Corbett said Barber is accused of producing meth in an underground lab located in a man-made cave hidden in a hillside near his residence. The cave had passageways, electricity and ventilation. Barber and his associates are also accused of coordinating the purchase of cold-remedy medicine and other chemicals used to produce meth.
Agents also seized approximately $15,000 worth of meth oil; an assortment of meth-related chemicals and supplies; drug packaging materials; $20,000 in cash; and a stockpile of 63 weapons, including a fully-automatic machine gun.
Investigators also photographed one sign near a swimming pond at Barber’s property that reads “Public Swimming Pool — Whites Only,” and another sign at the entrance to the property reading “No Trespassing - Sniper on Duty,” Attorney General Deputy Press Secretary Nils Fredericksen told the Tribune. Those signs were not a direct part of the drug investigation, he added.
“Using a secret underground lab and a coordinated effort to gather meth-related ingredients across the region, this drug organization produced and sold an estimated $1 million worth of meth over the past four years,” Corbett said in a news release.
Corbett said Friday’s arrests were based on evidence and testimony presented to a statewide investigating grand jury. Agents from the Attorney General’s Office and officers from the Northwestern Pennsylvania Meth Task Force executed a search of Barber’s Venango County property on April 24, seizing the fully-operational meth lab.
The task force includes officers from Meadville, Cambridge Springs, Titusville, Edinboro, Franklin, Girard, North East, Oil City and Polk.
According to the grand jury, Barber was mainly assisted by Roland W. Rodkey, 52, of RR 5 Box 422, Franklin, and James Lawrentz, 40, of 119 Fair-grounds Road, Stoneboro, who coordinated efforts to obtain pseudoephedrine cold medicine from stores across the region. Barber, Rodkey and Lawrentz allegedly recruited meth addicts as “pill-shoppers,” directing them to visit pharmacies on a carefully scheduled basis to obtain cold medications without attracting attention.
Corbett explained that pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for meth, became more difficult to obtain starting in 2006 because of the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act that required those drugs to be placed behind store counters and limited the amount of pseudoephedrine that could be purchased.
According to the grand jury, Barber allegedly responded to that measure by instituting a “no pills, no meth” type of policy with his clients, refusing to supply meth to anyone unless they brought him several packages of pseudoephedrine in addition to cash.
According to the grand jury, those involved in operation in one form or another include Barber’s son, Clarence (Clint) Barber, 37, of Stoneboro; Thomas W. Beighley, 40, of Sandy Lake; Glen E. Bennefield, 41, of Sandy Lake; Keith A. Bence, 42, of Stoneboro; Dennis J. Clark, 42, of Mercer; Machelle Lynn Hoover, 40, of Mercer; Constance Joy, 39, of Sharon; John Leroy Kellner, 44, of Polk; Steven Ray Malone, 38, of Polk; Ray E. McCool III, 31, of Grove City; Shawn T. McCool, 29, of Polk; Tracey Lynn Lewis (also known as Tracey Lynn McCool), 40, of Ashville, Tenn.; Michael Owens, 33, of Kennerdell; Tracy Paglusch, 37, of Jackson Center; Stephen Ira Slater, 46, of Stoneboro; Ronda Claire Slater, 47, of Sandy Lake; Justin Bradley Walker, 29, of Oil City; Amber Walker, 25, of Oil City; Jodi Rae Walker, 28, of Polk; and Shawn Patrick Witherup, 48, of Kennerdell.
Corbett said Rockne Barber Sr. and Lawrentz are both charged with participating in a corrupt organization; violations of the Controlled Substance, Drug Device and Cosmetic Act; conspiracy to violate the Drug Act; violations of the Meth Precursors and Chemicals Act; and criminal use of a communications facility.
Rodkey is reportedly charged with participating in a corrupt organization; violations of the Controlled Substance, Drug Device and Cosmetic Act; conspiracy to violate the Drug Act; and violations of the Meth Precursors and Chemicals Act.
Corbett said all of the other defendants are charged with conspiracy to violate the Drug Act and violations of the Meth Precursors and Chemicals Act.
The criminal charges were reportedly filed Friday before Emlenton-area Magisterial District Judge Douglas Gerwick. The defendants will reportedly be prosecuted in Venango County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Douglas J. Wright of the Attorney General’s Drug Strike Force Section.
Corbett said the investigation is ongoing, and that it’s focusing not only on Barber’s hidden meth lab and drug organization, but also the supply and flow of related chemicals, cash and weapons throughout northwestern Pennsylvania.
More arrests are anticipated.
“The message we are sending today is that law enforcement agencies across all of northwestern Pennsylvania are united in our efforts to attacking this problem, locating these labs and shutting down the meth trade,” Corbett said Friday.
Ryan Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
By Ryan Smith