GREENFIELD — Two Indianapolis women face more than a dozen felony drug-dealing charges after police said they caught the pair trying to pass off over-the-counter medicine as narcotic drugs as part of a larger counterfeit-drug ring.
Investigators used undercover informants to buy drugs from Nicole Haney, 27, and Sierra Fields, 25, but the opiate-based tablets the pair handed off in the deal turned out to be just over-the-counter headache medicine, police said.
Selling lookalike drugs — even if their chemical makeup is, in fact, harmless — carries the same penalties as actually selling illegal drugs, officials said.
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Haney faces 10 counts and Fields faces six counts including of maintaining a common nuisance, conspiracy to commit dealing a narcotic and possession of a counterfeit substance, according to investigators.
The women were arrested Wednesday and were being held in the Hancock County Jail pending an initial court appearance. That hearing had not been scheduled at press time. Police say additional arrests from the same counterfeit-drug ring are forthcoming.
News of the case comes with a warning from local police about the dangers of taking unknown substances and the additional crimes counterfeit dealing can lead to in the community.
Greenfield police began investigating Haney, Fields and at least one other suspect, whose name has not been released, after receiving a tip about suspicious activity.
Haney and Fields agreed to meet in Greenfield on several occasions to sell narcotic pills, investigators said. Once those deals with undercover informants were complete and the drugs were handed over to detectives, it was clear the women were handling counterfeit substances, officers said.
The pills looked like Percocet — a strong painkiller — but turned out to be just Tylenol capsules, detectives said.
That’s more dangerous than people realize, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said. Taking unknown substances poses a serious risk of overdose or other health concerns, especially if mixed with other drugs, Jester said.
Dealing counterfeit drugs isn’t a crime local police encounter often, said Detective Lt. Randy Ratliff, the head of Greenfield’s investigations unit.
Ratliff said he can recall handling fewer than five such cases in the past 10 years. The defendants in those cases don’t often realize they can get in as much trouble for fake substances as they do for more powerful ones, he said.
Haney and Fields would have made huge profits off unsuspecting buyers, Ratliff said. Those exchanges could lead to violent encounters later with angry customers who were duped, he said.
“People in the narcotic world have their own ways of handling these problems,” Ratliff said. “I’m worried about the repercussions this could have and what it means for the rest of the community.”
Haney faces: one Level 5 felony count of corrupt business influence; two Level 5 felony counts of dealing in a look-a-like substance; two Level 6 felony counts of dealing substances represented as controlled substances; two Level 6 felony counts of conspiracy to commit drug dealing; one Level 6 felony count of maintaining a common nuisance; one Level 6 felony count of criminal gang activity; and one Class A misdemeanor of driving while suspended.
Fields faces two Level 5 felony counts of dealing in a look-a-like substance; two Level 6 felony counts of dealing substances represented as controlled substances; one Level 6 felony count of conspiracy to commit drug dealing; and one Level 6 felony count of criminal gang activity.
Have a tip about drug-related behavior in your neighborhood? Call the Greenfield Police Department’s anonymous tipline at 317-325-DRUG.