Dozens arrested in multi-state heroin distribution ring with Shoals connection

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Numerous suspects in Lauderdale County are escorted to court Friday morning for their initial appearance before a judge. (Photo: Carter Watkins/WHNT News 19)
Numerous suspects in Lauderdale County are escorted to court Friday morning for their initial appearance before a judge. (Photo: Carter Watkins/WHNT News 19)

FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) – More than 40 people have been arrested by federal, state, and local authorities across three states in an effort to put a dent in the heroin trade.

In Lauderdale County, a task force was assembled in April after 19 people overdosed on what was thought to be heroin, but it turned out to be something much worse.

Nearly two dozen suspects were led into the courtroom inside the Lauderdale County Detention Center on Friday.  Most were arrested during a round-up by local police, FBI and ATF agents for a heroin ring that spread from California to Tennessee and south into northwest Alabama.

“I am glad that a local problem became a federal priority and they were able to surge some resources to help us out,” said Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler.

For three months, investigators have worked with federal agencies to battle the growing heroin problem in the Shoals. Five people died from heroin overdoses during a three-week period.

At the time, law enforcement believed the drug was being laced or cut with something out of the ordinary.  But it turned out to be something completely different.

“We think that Fentanyl was something that was being sold as not necessarily an imitation substance for heroin, it was being sold as or marketed as heroin. And we believe that was a big part of this investigation,” said Tim Glover of the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force.

How dangerous is fentanyl?  Glover says it is 30 to 800 times more potent than morphine.

Chief Tyler says this is even more reason to keep the heroin task force operating, to rid the streets of this synthetic drug.

“We have already identified new targets and we are going to continue these investigations and continue to pursue folks who are bringing illegal narcotics into our area,” said Tyler.

Tyler says round two will begin very soon.

In Nashville Friday morning, federal prosecutors announced the indictments of 22 people for conspiracy to distribute the synthetic drug.  Of those 22, eight of the individuals were from the Shoals area and face both state and federal charges.

The following people from north Alabama are charged:

-Jasmond Foster, aka Jazz, 26, of Sheffield
-William Earl Foster, Jr., aka Buck, 25, of Florence
-Shawna Caroline Foster, 36, of Florence
-Jerry Ray Cochran, aka J Ray, 40, of Florence
-William Kimbrough III, aka Trey, 37, of Tuscumbia
-Wallace Earl Coffey, aka Nephew, aka Beck, 27, of Sheffield
-Wallace Beckwith, aka Duke, 47, of Florence
-Thomas Barnett, aka Ham, aka Hambone, 27, of Florence

Local agencies involved in the investigation include the Florence Police Department, Lauderdale Drug Task Force, Lauderdale County District Attorney’s Office, Colbert County Drug Task Force, Sheffield Police Department, local FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force and DEA.