LEBANON, Ohio – A 17-year-old high school student was at the center of a high-grade marijuana distribution ring that was raking in as much as $20,000 a month, sheriff's investigators in southwestern Ohio said Monday.
The yearlong investigation culminated in the arrest of the teen and seven adults, as well as the seizure of more than 600 hydroponically grown marijuana plants with a street value of around $3 million, the Warren County Drug Task Force said.
The student, who was not named by the sheriff's office, will face charges in juvenile court. The teen had $6,000 in cash in his bedroom closet when officers arrived with a search warrant, sheriff's officials said.
"He was selling to six other people who were kind of like his lieutenants," Drug Task Force Commander John Burke said. "Then they were distributing the drugs to other high school students."
The juvenile told authorities he was not selling marijuana or conducting his business on the grounds of the high school, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor David Fornshell.
"There were strict orders not to sell at (the school) because you would get caught and the punishment would be severe," Fornshell said at a news conference.
He said the 17-year-old had been dealing drugs since he was at least 15. Through him, undercover investigators were able to trace the supply of drugs to three different individuals.
Fornshell described the teen as seeming "like someone who'd be in a church youth group or honor program."
"He clearly had a high level of intelligence, but it was very misguided," Fornshell said.
He and the students who worked for him supplied Mason and nearby King high schools, Burke said. Other students who allegedly worked under the teen may eventually be charged also.
The investigation netted suspects who allegedly were growing high-grade hydroponic marijuana out of houses in Norwood and Hamilton and a furniture warehouse in Blue Ash, all in the Cincinnati area. The pot sold for $5,000 a pound, Burke said.
The adults indicted range in age from 20 to 58. All face multiple charges including possessing, cultivating and trafficking in marijuana. They were indicted Friday and were still being rounded up Monday, Burke said.
"This is a unique situation where we've been able to start at one level and move up the ladder to the source," Burke said. "The case is made even more egregious because it involved juveniles."
Mason City School Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline said school officials combat drug activity by routinely conducting surprise sweeps, providing programs on drug use and abuse for students and employing a school resource officer.