Authorities announce takedown of drug ring operating in Colo., Wyo.; nab 32 suspects, seize 16K fentanyl pills

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Posted at 4:37 PM, Apr 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-09 19:12:38-04

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Law enforcement officials from Wyoming and Colorado announced Tuesday that a 15-month-long investigation into a multi-state drug ring operation has led to the arrest of 32 suspects and the seizure of 16,385 fentanyl pills.

Dubbed Operation Shattered Glass, the investigation involved several agencies from both states and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, according to Laramie County, Wyoming Sheriff Brian Kozak.

Kozak said the investigation was launched in December of 2022 after an officer working in the county jail stumbled upon a drug smuggling operation within the detention center.

The sheriff said an individual was smuggling drugs into the jail by way of an inmate via a shattered section of a glass brick wall that makes up a portion of the county jail building.

Law enforcement served 45 search warrants in both states, seizing 604 grams of methamphetamine, 64 grams of heroin and 4 grams of cocaine, in addition to the more than 16,000 fentanyl pills taken off the streets.

Sheriff Kozak said during a press conference in Cheyenne Tuesday that fentanyl addiction is a major issue impacting his jail and others around the country. Fentanyl poisoning was the cause of 17 deaths in Laramie County last year.

“During this investigation, our detectives arrested a woman by the name of Carissa Shepard in February 2023,” Sheriff Kozak said. “She was booked here in the Laramie County Jail, and then she was released … and unfortunately when she went to Fort Collins in Colorado, she died of fentanyl poisoning.”

Kozak said inmates who are released from jail are given Narcan to take home. Other measures, including a K-9, will soon be implemented at the Laramie County Jail in Cheyenne.

Twelve of the 32 suspects were prosecuted in federal court and are as follows:

  • Ryan Bennett (sentenced to 66 months in federal prison)
  • Joseph Flores (sentenced to 24 months in federal prison)
  • Raymond Paddock (sentenced to 33 months in federal prison)
  • Daniel Ellis (sentenced to 63 months in federal prison)
  • Michael Guzman (sentenced to 75 months in federal prison)
  • Ashley Hyatt (sentenced to 65 months in federal prison)
  • Cesar Lerma Hernandez, Conspiracy to Distribute Fentanyl (57 months federal prison)
  • Miguel Guerrero-Castaneda (sentenced to 57 months in federal prison)
  • Three of the federal defendants are awaiting sentencing. Their names have been withheld.

Nineteen suspects are being prosecuted by the district attorney’s office, and they include:

  • Jesse Coolbaugh (sentenced to 3-5 years in state prison)
  • Jordanne Cole
  • Amber Wessel
  • Lily Bullis
  • Brandon Oram
  • Wilbur Turner
  • Gail Ellis
  • Olivia Merrill
  • Nolan Meeks
  • Korysa Shepard (died of fatal drug poisoning)
  • Derrek McNalley
  • Brady Ehlers
  • Three of the defendants are awaiting sentencing. Their names have been withheld.
  • Four defendants are awaiting trial and have not been identified.

The Wyoming sheriff said his office will be asking voters this fall for money to remodel the jail and remove the glass bricks.

"So one of the things I'm going to do, I'm going to ask the voters — for the sixth penny ballot coming up — to actually remodel this building and get rid of the glass block and replace it with real block. Because, after all it is a jail," he said.

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