John Howard of the Hillbilly Heroin Highway to Hell Gang of Cumberland Md. bust by Maryland State Police on May 24, 2019. Police say Howard led the hillbillies in heroin and drug ring that stretched across Maryland


Investigation Dismantles Drug Trafficking Organization

 CUMBERLAND, MD – The Maryland State Police reports that the Heroin Investigative Unit, in conjunction with the Allegany County Narcotics Task Force, identified and arrested members of a drug trafficking organization that allegedly distributed fentanyl, heroin and cocaine in Allegany County and surrounding areas.

The investigation, which began in 2018, identified John James Howard, 33, of Baltimore, as the alleged leader, supervisor, financier, and manager of an illegal drug network which spanned from Baltimore City to Allegany County. Howard faces 109 drug-related charges after the Allegany County grand jury returned an indictment against him on May 15, 2019.

During the week of May 14, 2019, investigators from the Maryland State Police and Allegany County Narcotics Task Force served search warrants in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Allegany County related to the investigation. During the course of the investigation it was learned fentanyl/heroin and crack cocaine was being transported from Baltimore and stored in Allegany County. The organization would then distribute the controlled substances at locations throughout the county.

In addition to Howard, 16 co-conspirators were also indicted by the grand jury related to their roles in the drug trafficking organization. They are as follows:

  • Dijhon Sanders, 26 of Baltimore, Maryland – 4 drug-related offenses to include distribution large amount, fentanyl
  • Frank Edmonds, 56, of Baltimore, Maryland – 9 drug-related offenses including conspiracy to distribute large amount of heroin
  • Cody Propst, 37, of Lavale, Maryland – 23 drug-related offenses
  • Robert Johnson, 56, of Frostburg, MD – 17 drug-related offenses
  • Melanie Johnson, 39, of Frostburg, Maryland – 17 drug-related offenses
  • Reid Golden, 46, of Cumberland, Maryland – 7 drug-related offenses including common nuisance and distribution of heroin.
  • Alyse Beck, 31, of Cumberland, Maryland – 5 drug-related offenses including conspiracy to distribute large amount
  • Jonathon May, of Cumberland, Maryland – 5 drug-related offenses including conspiracy to distribute large amount of illegal drugs
  • Donnie Burley, 50, of Cumberland, Maryland – 2 drug-related offenses
  • Ashlie Rhodes, 25, of Cumberland, Maryland – 9 drug-related offenses
  • Dereck Lewis, 28, of Cumberland, Maryland – 4 drug-related offenses
  • Crystal Vanmeter, 24, of Lavale, Maryland – 8 drug-related offenses
  • Travis Keller, 47, of Cresaptown, Maryland – 16 drug-related offenses
  • Gary Broadwater, 47, of Frostburg, Maryland – 7 drug-related offenses
  • Brianna Lear, 22, of Westernport, Maryland – 1 drug-related offense
  • Ashley Davis, 32, of Cresaptown, Maryland – 2 drug-related offenses

The Allegany County Narcotics Task Force is a cooperative effort between the Maryland State Police, Allegany County Sheriff’s Office and the Cumberland Police Department. Assisting in the investigation were members of the Maryland State Police Gang Enforcement Unit, Maryland State Police Strike Force 7, Maryland State Police S.T.A.T.E., Garrett County Drug Task Force, Maryland State Police – Criminal Enforcement Division Western Region, Maryland State Police Golden Ring and Cumberland Barracks, Maryland State Police Homicide Unit, West Virginia State Police, Cumberland Police Department, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, Baltimore City Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of drug-related overdose deaths in Maryland. This overall escalation is largely attributable to increases in opiate-related abuse. In response to the alarming trend, Governor Larry Hogan issued Executive Order 01.01.2015.12, creating the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, charged with advising and assisting Governor Hogan in establishing a coordinated statewide and multi-jurisdictional effort to prevent, treat, and significantly reduce heroin and opioid abuse.

According to the Maryland State Police report, on December 1, 2015, the Governor’s Task Force released its final report, which included 33 recommendations to combat the heroin epidemic. One of those recommendations included the creation of a multi-jurisdictional Maryland State Police unit, known as the Heroin Investigation Unit, to focus on mid-to-upper-level heroin and opioid distribution operations.


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