FBI busts major Seattle-area drug ring

SEATTLE -- FBI agents have arrested 21 people they believe were part of a wide-ranging operation to illegally sell thousands of oxycodone pills in the Seattle area, and three more are sought.

The sting, dubbed "Operation Pee-Wee's Playhouse," was part of a two-year investigation that even had agents traveling to California's Bay Area to find and eliminate the source of the drugs, said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.

Investigators say the ring involved 22 from the Puget Sound area who would travel to California and pick up 2,000 to 5,000 oxycodone pills per trip. They would turn around and sell the pills throughout the greater Seattle area.

Nineteen of the defendants pleaded not guilty before a judge during their arraignment Tuesday afternoon, but investigators say the suspects are hardened criminals who have been behind shootings, assaults and robberies, besides pushing massive amounts of drugs.

"The major scale and impact of today's operation is unprecedented," said Special Agent in Charge Laura Laughlin.

One of the suspects who was arrested at a West Seattle home Tuesday was wounded in a shooting at 23rd Ave. S and S. Dearborn Street earlier this month.

Investigators say many of the drug ring suspects are tied to violent crimes.

"We are confident that the arrests of these individuals is going to really help play a significant role in making those neighborhoods and our streets much safer," said Asst. Seattle Police Chief Nick Metz.

Investigators say they dismantled this ring from top to bottom, culminating with alleged mastermind, Herman J. Roche of Kent, Roche.

"In this criminal enterprise, (Roche) was the man," said Special Agent in Charge Steven Dean. "He was the head dog, and we took the head dog out."

Federal agents say not only did they stop the ring from delivering thousands of pills of oxycodone at a time, they also seized 20 firearms and tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

Investigators say the 21 people in custody essentially dismantles this ring, but there are three other suspects still on the run. At least two are part of the California connection, and agents hope to be closing in soon.

If convicted, those arrested could each face up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

List of those arrested

Those indicted for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances as announced by the FBI:

HERMAN J. ROCHE, 43, of Kent, Washington
ROBERT M. KEARNEY JR., 40, of Stockton, California
SHAUNTE M. ANTHONY, 34, of Oakland, California
RUCHELL GILBERT, 38, of Renton, Washington
BRANDY N. BUTLER, 34, of Seattle, Washington
NICKOLE E. MARTIN, 25, of Kent, Washington
JASON R. LEE, 26, of Seattle, Washington
RAHMAN JOHNSON, 35, of Kent, Washington
SAXTON F. MASON, 35, of Seattle, Washington
ERNEST J. ELLISON, 47, of Seattle, Washington
DEMONTA M. HENRY, 24, of Kent, Washington
VINCENT L. FIELDS, 44, of Tacoma, Washington
COREY A. BROWN, 39, of Seattle, Washington
CLARENCE D. WILLIAMS, 32, of Seattle, Washington
JOSEPH D. ROCHE, 46, of Seattle, Washington
THOMAS D. LEE, 45, of Seattle, Washington
DAVID L. POTTS, 48, of Spanaway, Washington
CURIUM L. HURLEY, 29, of Tukwila, Washington

The defendants charged by complaint include:
DANIEL M.YOHANNES, 26, of Seattle, Washington
BRIAN M. DAVIS, 33, of Seattle, Washington
FREDERICK L. NEWMAN Jr., 39, of Tukwila, Washington
ANTHONY F. COLBERT, 42, Renton, Washington

Additional defendants arrested include:
NEGASH MULU WOLDESELASE, 25, of Seattle, Washington
ALVIN ROCHELL MITCHELL, 24, of Seattle, Washington