Drug ring takes plea deal

By Jim Painter - For the Sidney Daily News

SIDNEY — Three people indicted on multiple drug-related charges agreed to plead guilty to one charge in cases negotiated with prosecutors Friday in Shelby County Common Pleas Court.

A loss of nearly a quarter million dollars and forfeiture of two vehicles are part of the plan.

Considered the ringleader of the trio, Leon J. Francis Jr., 33, of Cave Junction, Oregon, pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of drugs, a third-degree felony. He faces a maximum sentence of 36 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Judge James Stevenson told Francis the prison time is not mandatory; however, he should make the presumption that incarceration orders will be included at sentencing.

Francis’ father, Leon J. Francis Sr., 61, 1235 St. Marys Ave., and Francis Jr.’s live-in girlfriend, Sarah Jones, 32, of Oregon, entered guilty pleas to a charge of possession of drugs, a fourth-degree felony. Both face maximum sentences of 18 months in prison and $5,000 fines.

The incarceration discussion was not to be part of their agreement, according to Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell.

All three also face a driver’s license suspension of six months up to five years. Stevenson ordered a presentence investigation in each case and ordered that all three are to remain free on a $60,000 bond, each.

Indicted on March 29, online court records show the trio were originally charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony; aggravated trafficking in drugs, a third-degree felony; two counts of trafficking in drugs, both third and fourth-degree felonies; and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony.

All charges were dropped except the single drug possession charge for each defendant.

On Friday, the judge also included specification conditions that call for the forfeiture of $246,322 in cash derived from drug sales, a 2018 Outback Ultra Lite camper and a 2015 Ford F-250 pick-up truck bought with cash from drug sales and used in the commission of the crimes. All items were confiscated at the time of their arrest, Jan. 5.

Search warrant led to arrest

According to authorities, a search warrant was executed Jan. 5 by Sidney and Piqua Police Departments and the Ohio State Highway Patrol at the home of Francis Sr. Officers reportedly saw Jones enter the residence. Reportedly, no one answered the door and a narcotics search warrant was requested.

Francis Sr. was in the house while Jones was discovered in the camper along with drugs and cash. Officers recovered marijuana, hash, THC products and the cash that were concealed in the camper parked behind the residence.

Prior to the search, Francis Jr. left the residence in the pickup truck and was located by police at 760 E. Hoewisher Road. Authorities later seized the camper and truck.

The record noted the drug activity was within 1,000 feet of Northwood Elementary School, which impacted the level of the charges.

Francis Sr. claimed the marijuana, hash oil and other THC products located in a bedroom in the house were for his personal use.

Investigators indicated the camper and truck were used as part of a large, drug-trafficking trade spanning multiple states. The report also indicates the St. Marys Avenue residence was home to parties believed to be involved with the suspected trafficking enterprise.

No federal case pending

On Sept. 23, 2017, the elder Francis was stopped by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents while carrying $50,000 cash at the Dayton International Airport. A drug search canine alerted a detection during an open-air sniff of the cash. The cash, all $20 notes, vacuum sealed, was seized by Homeland Security.

Agents also noted Francis indicated he was travelling to California when he had a plane ticket to Oregon. Francis told agents the cash was for his son’s business.

Sell noted the report stated that, three weeks prior, Francis Sr. had been stopped by the TSA agents at the Dayton airport carrying $40,000 cash. Francis claimed the money was from his cashing in a retirement account. He was released by agents that day.

The prosecutor wrote that Sidney Police had a “known and reliable confident informant” that advised Francis Jr. was a known large trafficker of marijuana and had residences in Columbus, California and Oregon.

After the hearing Friday, Sell reported federal authorities have passed on prosecuting the trio in a federal case. The bond posted for the trio allows them to travel to other states since they have appeared in court at each hearing.

Their sentencing has not been scheduled.

By Jim Painter

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.