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Property at center of drug probe seized

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The property in the 4500 block of South CR 650W sits on five acres and has a pool. When it's offered at a sheriff's sale, the property could bring upwards of $200,000, authorities say.

(Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)
The property in the 4500 block of South CR 650W sits on five acres and has a pool. When it's offered at a sheriff's sale, the property could bring upwards of $200,000, authorities say. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — The home that was the site of the biggest drug bust in county history is now headed to a public auction that could raise a six-figure bounty for agencies that are participating in the investigation.

Six months ago, federal and state law enforcement officers descended on a single-story home in the 4500 block of South CR 650W, where they found an estimated $1.2 million worth of synthetic marijuana, more commonly known as “spice.”

Since then, the house has sat empty, its contents stored at the Indiana State Police evidence lab while the investigation continues. Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s office has moved forward with the forfeiture of the home and its contents, valued at approximately $200,000. The forfeiture is believed to be the largest in county history.

And as the county prepares to pocket a sizeable chunk of the proceeds from the sale of the house and its contents, prosecutors are closing in on those involved in the spice-manufacturing operation.

Hancock County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tami Napier said she hopes to have a list of defendants on her desk as early as next week after she meets with the Indiana State Police detective leading the investigation.

“I believe at this point that it’s going to involve people in a couple of counties and a number of defendants,” Napier said.

The home in New Palestine was just one part of a larger operation, police said. In a 40-by-60 foot detached garage, investigators found chemicals, flavoring and bales of dried flowers, all common ingredients in spice. The raid came after a month-long investigation into activity at the property after the home’s address was found at a warehouse in Marion County that served as a distribution center.

The criminal investigation has crept along slowly as detectives worked to identify the key players in what is believed to have been a massive synthetic drug ring. In the meantime, local officials have worked the civil side of the justice system, asking a judge to grant them possession of all property involved in the manufacturing of spice or purchased with money from sales of the drug.

Indiana law allows police agencies to seize and then use or sell property that has been used in the commission of certain crimes. The laws governing drug-related forfeitures are extensive, detailing a wide variety of items that can be retrieved by investigators.

First and foremost, forfeiture rules apply to items directly connected to the crime in question – buildings where drugs were stored, for example – but the laws also allow for seizure of anything believed to have been purchased with money earned through criminal activity.

In the case of the New Palestine raid, that means detectives collected not only items used to process and package spice in the detached garage on the property but also flat-screen TVs, gaming systems, weapons, tools, DVDs and other personal belongings found inside the home.

“Our belief… is a number of the items of personal property were purchased with the proceeds of spice sales,” Prosecutor Michael Griffin said.

The Hancock County prosecutor’s office obtained the deed to the home in late March. Griffin said he expects the property, which sits on five acres and has an in-ground swimming pool, to go to a sheriff’s sale in the coming weeks.

The proceeds of the sale will be divided among the agencies that participated in the bust early last October. While state police and federal authorities who led the investigation will receive the lion’s share, the forfeiture will still provide a sizeable boost to the county prosecutor’s office budget, Griffin said.

“When we file the cases and invest the time, we should have a good proportion,” Griffin said.

On the local level, forfeitures are fairly infrequent, and they typically involve a police agency seizing property or cash.

In 2013, the Greenfield Police Department had three forfeitures: $864 in cash seized from an alleged marijuana-trafficker; $260 in cash seized from the home of an alleged narcotics dealer; and a 1993 Ford Crown Victoria seized from a suspect accused of using it in an armed robbery.

The department’s most substantial forfeiture was in 2011, when officers seized $60,000 worth of electronics purchased with stolen credit cards.

That same year, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department received a check from the U.S. Attorney’s office for more than $52,000, forfeited proceeds from an out-of-county drug bust in which a local officer participated.

The department’s forfeitures are usually significantly less. In 2013, the sheriff’s department seized about $2,600 during three drug investigations and also forfeited two cars used by an accused burglar. The total came to just shy of $2,900 for the year.

A forfeiture request is followed by a civil hearing to determine the property was legally obtained and is eligible to be forfeited. On a sizable investigation, it’s not unusual for the legal wrangling to take a year or longer, police said.

Once a judge grants the forfeiture, the property can be sold or it can be used by law enforcement for up to three years. Vehicles, for example, can be turned into undercover police cars.

Griffin said he doesn’t have any set plans for the amount his office will receive, but he expects it will go toward training and equipment. Personnel hires funded by forfeitures are impractical because the funding is unreliable.

As for the criminal case, Napier said it is moving into the final stage.

“We have names of defendants already just from the work that we’ve done, … but we are waiting for the green light from the state police,” she said.

Napier declined to release information on the defendants, but legal filings to date suggest the homeowner, Jarad Lewis of Indianapolis, is a suspect.

The couple that lived in the house at the time of the raid was renting the home from Lewis. Legally, officials could move forward with the forfeiture process of the rental only by implicating the homeowner.

“We believe that he knew,” Griffin said. “I can’t get into a lot of detail about what the investigation has borne out with respect to defendants including Jarad Lewis.”

Lewis is still attempting to fight the county for possession of the home, according to court documents.

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