GREENFIELD — The manager of Smokin’ Hog BBQ has been arrested in connection to a cross-country marijuana trafficking investigation police dubbed “Operation Bar B Que.”
Charges are being brought against 11 suspects connected to the case. Of those 11, seven have been arrested, including Smokin’ Hog manager Kelly Thompson, 26, of Greenfield.
Thompson admitted to police she had been serving as an intermediary in the drug-trafficking operation, receiving packages of marijuana in the mail at both the restaurant and her home and then returning money to the shippers in California, court records state.
Police raided the business in the 1700 block of Melody Lane in late October after conducting surveillance for several weeks. On the day of the raid, Thompson was seen carrying a box believed to be full of marijuana into Smokin’ Hog during business hours when customers were dining inside, police said.
During the raid, investigators found multiple pre-packaged baggies of marijuana, as well as a box containing four pounds of the drug. Inside a Hello Kitty notebook were handwritten records including a California shipping address where the drugs are believed to have originated.
A total of 36 pounds of marijuana – roughly $162,000 worth in street value – has been seized from multiple locations throughout the investigation, police said.
The case is being worked jointly by officials here and in California, where the investigation is ongoing and several arrests are pending, police said.
The investigation began with a traffic stop last summer by the Proactive Criminal Enforcement team on Interstate 70.
The P.A.C.E. team, an inter-agency initiative comprised of officers from Hancock, Henry and Wayne counties, primarily focuses on combating drug trafficking on the interstate.
In late July, Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Ernstes, a member of the P.A.C.E. team, stopped a driver on I-70 for a registration violation.
During the traffic stop, the driver provided the officer with information about marijuana shipments coming from California to Greenfield.
The driver also provided information on one of the suppliers. When police searched for the suspect’s house via Google Maps, an aerial image showed a marijuana garden next to the home, according to court documents.
Thompson is one of six Hancock County defendants in the case. She is charged with seven felonies; dealing marijuana; conspiracy to deal marijuana; maintaining a common nuisance; corrupt business influence and three counts of possession of marijuana.
Her sister, Carey Wilson, and Wilson’s boyfriend, Robert Murnan, have also been charged with multiple drug-related felonies.
Police worked with the U.S. Postal Service to identify parcels that were believed to contain drugs. Police then followed those packages to locations in Hancock and Marion counties where they were delivered.
Police have arrested the following people, all of whom were seen receiving or delivering packages of marijuana, according to court documents: Christopher Riggle of Indianapolis; Anna Belle Roberts and Loren Livingstone of Greenfield; and Robin Armstrong of Pendleton.
Police have raided six homes in connection to the case, including four in Hancock County, and recovered drugs and drug paraphernalia.
In many cases, the drugs were packaged along with fabric softener sheets and coffee grounds in an effort to disguise the odor, police said. Packages of money were also vacuum-sealed.
Post-It notes sent with the packages indicated how much money had been paid for the drugs in the past and how much was still owed, according to court documents.
Days before Thompson’s arrest, the Smokin’ Hog restaurant was listed for sale on Craigslist for $75,000. The business is actually owned by Thompson’s mother and stepfather, who live in California.
There are additional suspects in the case who could be arrested in the coming weeks. Local warrants have been issued for three people living out of state.