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Benishek Inching

Regarding “Benishek No Environmentalist” I agree with Mr. Powell’s letter to the editor/ opinion of Congressman Dan Benishek’s poor environmental record and his penchant for putting corporate interests ahead of his constituents’...

Climate Change Warning

Currently there are three assaults on climate change. The first is on the integrity of the scientists who support human activity in climate change. Second is that humans are not capable of affecting the climate...

Fed Up About Roads

It has gotten to the point where I cringe when I have to drive around this area. There are areas in Traverse City that look like a war zone. When you have to spend more time viewing potholes instead on concentrating on the road, accidents are bound to happen...

Don’t Blame the IRS

I have not heard much about the reason for the IRS getting itself entangled with the scrutiny of certain conservative 501(c) groups (not for profit) seeking tax exemption. Groups seeking tax relief must be organizations that are operated “primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterment and social improvements.”


Home · Articles · News · Features · The Old Man and the Addicts
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The Old Man and the Addicts

Inside Mancelona’s drug underworld

Patrick Sullivan - August 13th, 2012  

Former drug addict Jason Craig Blackmore was apparently getting his life back together and trying to emerge as a productive member of society when out of the blue he was arrested.

He’s been employed by the Antrim County Commission on Aging, where he worked at the Mancelona Senior Center.

Blackmore had started a family and seemed to have put the drug life behind him, said Dave Malbouef, a 26-year-old from Mancelona who also got sucked into the Mancelona drug world and who is now also trying to reclaim his life.

“He basically became a family man and all he wanted to do was take care of his family,” Malbouef said.

Evelyn Hull, the director of the senior center, said Blackmore was loved by the older folks and he appeared to have gone straight.

“He was a very nice young man,” Hull said. “I thought he was doing very well.”

‘MANCELONA UNDERWORLD’

Blackmore’s new life came to a screeching halt on May 17, when the 29-year-old, along with numerous others, was charged with multiple felony drug charges that carry some hefty prison time for alleged crimes that took place between 2006 and 2009.

Now, Blackmore, son of an Antrim County commissioner, is in jail, awaiting a hearing over whether his $250,000 bond might be lowered to something his family could afford.

In the motion to get the bond lowered, Blackmore’s attorney, Sean Liles, argued that Blackmore should be given credit for getting himself off of drugs on his own. Liles did not return a message seeking comment.

A motion hearing on the reduction of Blackmore’s bond will be heard before Judge Philip Rodgers Jr. on Aug. 22.

Liles argued that Blackmore is “a former drug addict,” and said he’s been sober and a productive member of society for three years; he has no history of violence and there is very little evidence against him in the case.

“These charges against him are for his association with the Mancelona underworld during his time of addiction,” Liles wrote.

‘THE OLD MAN’

Indeed, the Mancelona underworld is not finished with Blackmore, if Antrim County officials have their way.

They want him to pay for his role as an alleged low- to mid-level drug dealer.

Blackmore and co-defendants Wallace Edward Bigger, Shaun Robert Roggenbeck, 30, and Angel Knowles, 27, are charged with multiple felonies that carry up to 20 years in prison, including delivery and manufacture of morphine, conspiracy and racketeering. Blackmore also faces a charge that he sold morphine in a school zone that carries up to 60 years in prison.

According to the charges, Knowles and Roggenbeck, sometimes with Blackmore’s help, distributed untold quantities of morphine and Dilaudid pills brought illegally into the region by Bigger, a 71-year-old who everyone called “the Old Man.”

They allegedly sold the drugs out of the back of a bar or from an apartment above a pizza restaurant.

The suspects are just some of numerous cases Antrim County and Traverse Narcotics Team officials announced in May that cover a patchwork of loosely related alleged drug dealing cells around the county.

James Rossiter, the assistant prosecutor for Antrim County who is handling the cases, said an investigation was opened in the wake of an alarming number of overdose deaths in the county.

He said the stepped-up enforcement was launched in 2009 after the county saw five overdose deaths in one year, far too many deaths for a quiet, rural county of 25,000 residents.

NOT A TYPICAL KINGPIN

The central figure in Blackmore’s case is Bigger, who is also in jail in lieu of $250,000.

Bigger, who at times lived in Mancelona and later lived in a camper in Vanderbilt, is accused of getting illegal prescriptions for painkillers from a crooked doctor in Saginaw.

During his preliminary hearing, Bigger fiddled with his hearing aid to make sure he could hear the testimony against him. He does not look like a typical drug kingpin.

The only previous conviction listed in Bigger’s court file is from 1963 when he was charged with furnishing alcohol to minors.

His attorney, Philip Settles, said he could not comment on a pending case.

Bigger is married to another figure in the case, Eileen Maureena Hiester, 34, who had previously been to prison on drug and assault charges, but who has not been charged in the latest round of cases. The couple are currently separated.

A relative of Hiester said the Old Man was only able to land a bride younger than half his age because he took advantage of her drug addiction.

A MILLION PILLS

Hiester would go from bride to witness against Bigger, according to the probable cause statement in Bigger’s court file.

Hiester laid out for police how Bigger got so many drugs. She told authorities in February under investigative subpoena that Bigger got the drugs from a doctor in Saginaw, Dr. Ruth Ann Buck.

Another witness told police that the Old Man sold pills to a suspect named Angel Knowles, and she in turn, sold them out of an apartment above a pizza store on State Street and other places.

That witness told detectives he learned from Knowles that Bigger got 400 morphine pills per month and 400 Dilaudid pills per month.

Knowles is currently wanted on the charges from the case and she is thought to be in Colorado, Rossiter said.

According to Roggenbeck’s testimony, Bigger sold the pills for $20 apiece, which means he could have brought in up to $16,000 per month.

Buck was charged in 2010 with writing illegal prescriptions for well over a million pills. She was eventually sentenced to federal prison for three years after she entered a guilty plea.

Buck wrote prescriptions without conducting physical exams and she coached people on what to say in order to get drugs or qualify for a medical marijuana card, according to federal court documents.

In one instance, when an undercover officer went to her to renew an oxycodone prescription, the officer told the doctor he was chewing the time-release oxy tablets, a practice that could lead to overdose death because of the sudden release of the drug into the bloodstream.

“Rather than advise the officer that chewing oxycodone could kill him, defendant replied that she didn’t want to know about it and didn’t ‘give a shit’ how the officer took the oxycodone,” according to a brief filed in federal court for Michigan’s Eastern District.

WHOLESALE DISTRIBUTOR

Bigger acted as a wholesale distributor of drugs for Antrim County, according to testimony and accounts in court files.

Roggenbeck pled to a lesser charge and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 13. His attorney, Matthew Connelly, said he didn’t want to comment pending sentencing.

In June, Roggenbeck testified at Bigger’s preliminary hearing that Bigger kept him supplied so that he could sell prescription meds to his clients around the county.

Roggenbeck testified at the prelim that he got 10 to 20 pills from Bigger every day -- sometimes he got blue 100-milligram morphine pills, and sometimes he got Dilaudids, small, round white pills.

Sometimes he paid for the pills and sometimes he traded cigarettes or food, he testified.

Roggenbeck, son of Dale Roggenbeck, former Antrim County sheriff, said he was addicted to heroin at the time, and when he went to see Bigger he was either high or in withdrawal. Roggenbeck said he probably paid Bigger around $20,000 for pills in the couple years they did business.

At Bigger’s place in Vanderbilt, Roggenbeck testified that he saw other drug dealers buy pills from Bigger and pay him $1,000 or so dollars at a time.

“Did you ever have discussions with Mr.

Bigger about what you were doing with the pills?” assistant prosecutor Rossiter asked Roggenbeck.

“Not really. It was kind of obvious.” “Why would you say it was obvious?” “Well, the amount,” Roggenbeck said.

“I’d be dead if I was doing them all.”

‘THAT’S DRUG MONEY’

Eileen Hiester’s 87-year-old grandmother, Therese Hiester, said her granddaughter got mixed up with drugs and was vulnerable when she met Bigger.

“Eileen had a drug problem, that was the reason she ended up marrying him,” Hiester said.

Therese Hiester said her granddaughter met Bigger when she was assigned to his home after she took work as a home aide for low-income, disabled people.

“When he met her, he kicked his son out of his house and he wanted Eileen to be his chore worker,” Therese Hiester said.

She said her granddaughter was into drugs long before she met Bigger, but meeting the Old Man made things worse.

Hiester started to get into legal trouble and faced criminal charges due to her drug use.

Bigger would visit her in jail and he always had money for her, Therese Hiester said.

She said others in her family thought the Old Man was being kind; they thought he was sharing his disability money. Therese Hiester said she knew better.

“I told them -- that’s not disability money, that’s drug money,” she said, Since those dark days, Eileen Hiester has tried to put her life back together.

“She’s trying to get off of drugs and she’s trying to stay out of trouble, anyway,” her grandmother said.

TRYING TO GET HER LIFE BACK

Eileen Hiester left Bigger and he began calling her constantly, day-and-night, Therese Hiester said. They eventually started to get frequent hang-up calls.

“He called continuously, harassing her,” she said.

That prompted Eileen’s father, Kenneth Hiester, to attempt to get a personal protection order against Bigger so the calls would stop. Kenneth Hiester filed for the order in December, 2011, but he didn’t appear at a hearing over the merits of the request and the application was denied.

Eileen Hiester is staying on her grandmother’s property right now and she is helping out around the house, although the circumstances are complicated. Therese Hiester is a Jehovah’s Witness, and Eileen has been excommunicated from the church, she said, so she is supposed to have nothing to do with her.

She said she could not turn her back on Eilleen, however, as long as she is trying to kick drugs and make a decent life for herself.

BIGGER FAMILY THREATS

At Bigger’s preliminary hearing, Settles, his attorney, tried to get his client’s $250,000 bond lowered. District Court Judge Michael Haley refused.

Rossiter, the assistant prosecutor, said at the hearing that a son of Bigger’s had approached a witness and threatened them not to testify and a daughter had showed up at an earlier hearing wearing a t-shirt that depicted Al Pacino as Scarface and read “NO SNITCHES.”

Haley warned Bigger that any communication from jail that led to threats against witnesses would led to charges that would carry consecutive jail time on top of what he already faced.

Rossiter read a list of witnesses in open court, apparently putting Bigger on notice.

Haley said: “If I get any information that any of these people have been approached directly or indirectly and we suspect that it’s a family member or suspect that it might be coming from the jail, I will recommend that Mr. Bigger be transferred down to Wayne County, and he can be held in that facility there.”

Haley bound Bigger over to circuit court to face trial on the drug charges. Bigger is scheduled to go to trial beginning Sept. 25.

“It’s pretty clear that Mr. Bigger was not simply engaging in an operation where he had a few customers, like a normal drug dealer, if there is such a thing, but rather he was part of an operation distributing drugs throughout at least Antrim County,” Haley said.

‘IT’S RIDICULOUS’

Malbouef, the Mancelona resident who is not involved in the drug cases but who knows a lot of people who are, said it is a shame about what happened to Blackmore, getting stuck in jail to face charges so long after he got off drugs and turned his life around.

Nonetheless, everyone around Mancelona on a recent afternoon agreed that their town has been ravaged by drugs in recent years.

Malbouef said “it’s ridiculous” how easy it is to get illegal prescription drugs in Antrim County and how easy it is to become an addict.

Some people believe the recent spate of busts will stem the flow of drugs into town and could change things for the better. Others believe a new crop of drug dealers will step up to take the place of any that are sidelined by jail or prison.

Malbouef said he expects it means it’s been tougher for users and low-level dealers to get drugs lately.

“If nothing else, it’s going to give some of the people who are still out and about something to think about,” he said.

He knows some of the folks whose names have come up in connection with the May bust, and he says many of them were arrested years ago, served their time, are back out and are trying to get their lives back together.

“All of a sudden you see them up on TV again, and it looks like it happened all over again,” said Malbouef, referring to local television news coverage of the bust.

‘MANY TRAITS OF DETROIT’

Margaret Klett, 66, moved to Mancelona from Detroit in 2003 and said since she’s been here, she’s noticed the community deteriorate as drugs took hold of so many young people.

“They don’t have the respect that they used to have and they act like that no matter what they want, they’re supposed to get it,” Klett said. “They don’t want to work, but they want money.”

She said she lives in view of the elementary, middle and high schools and watches kids get dropped off for school and then turn around and walk into town, up to who knows what.

Klett is worried about break-ins now because she knows drug addicts are looking for money and because drug users assume that older folks have prescription drugs in their homes.

The problems of Mancelona are starting to remind her of the problems of Detroit.

“I can see so many of the traits of Detroit slowly seeping in,” Klett said. “I love this town, it’s a wonderful town.”

Rossiter said despite all of the arrests and prosecutions, he is not sure how much of a dent authorities have made in the drug trade in Antrim County.

“If you remove one supplier, another supplier is ready to fill that void,” he said. “It may take a little time, but there is a huge mark-up from what you can buy the same drug for in Detroit, Grand Rapids, or Flint, and bring it up here and sell it for.”

 
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