Paul McKibben reports:
A Mason High School student accused of taking part in a potential $3 million drug ring will appear in court in two weeks.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Tyler Pagenstecher was not in Warren County’s juvenile detention center. His arraignment is 4 p.m. July 31 in Warren County Juvenile Court.
He is charged with two felony counts of trafficking in drugs.
Warren County law enforcement officials say Pagenstecher, an upperclassman at Mason High School , headed up a $3 million drug ring that for nearly three years doled out pot to local students and was suspected of selling about $20,000 of the drug each month.
Just three months shy of turning 18, Pagenstecher is not being charged as an adult. If convicted, he could spend the next three years in a state juvenile detention center.
He was expected to turn himself into authorities Tuesday. Prosecutors and police said Monday they had that assurance from Pagenstecher’s attorney. The attorney could not be reached Tuesday.
“He looks like someone that would be in your church youth group,” said David Fornshell, Warren County prosecutor. “He looks like somebody that would be on student council.”
The year-long investigation by the Warren County Drug Task Force netted several high-profile targets who allegedly were growing high-grade hydroponic marijuana out of houses in Norwood and Hamilton, and a furniture warehouse in Blue Ash.
Authorities said that Pagenstecher, a former honor roll student from Mason had at least six current and former Mason High School students working under him to be the primary source for marijuana for students in Mason School District and a significant source of the drug at Kings Schools, also in Warren County.
Pagenstecher was smart enough not to deal on school grounds. And he apparently was savvy enough to keep his business dealings from his mother, even though police said they found a wad of cash – $6,000 – in the teen’s bedroom after serving a search warrant.
Mom’s story, according to police: “She didn’t know.”“She’s a single mom. If we can prove mom was involved in this, we would have charged her. Obviously, we can’t or we would have,” said Task Force Commander John Burke. “We never bought marijuana with her present. We never had any conversation with her to indicate that she knew.”
Seven adults were indicted in the case on Friday. Burke said they are still considering charges against the underlings who allegedly dealt drugs for Pagenstecher to local high school students. It is unclear whether those alleged dealers are juveniles.
Those indicted on Friday are Gerald Peele 20, of Mason; Michael Lopez, 28, of Green Township; Stacy Lampe, 28, and Cody Lampe, 31, a married couple from Norwood; Justin Baker, 31, of Hamilton; William Sparks, 57, of Hamilton; and Allen Honeycutt, 58, of Symmes Township. Honeycutt owns Blue Moon Furniture in Montgomery.
Burke said Pagenstecher was buying a pound of marijuana at a time from Lopez and that Peele was one of the six people working for the teen.
He said the investigation blew open last August, when undercover drug agents bought the drug from the teen, he said. By that time, the teen had been in business about two years and had gained a reputation for having high-grade pot selling for $350 to $400 an ounce.
From there, police identified Lopez as the teen’s supplier and stepped up through the hierarchy to the grow operations, Burke said.
“Honeycutt and Baker were the two top tiers,” he said.
Fornshell said the Lampes supplied to Lopez from their Norwood grow operation. Authorities seized 209 plants of high-grade marijuana from the Lampes.
The largest operation was at Honeycutt’s leased furniture warehouse on Creek Road in Blue Ash. That warehouse was outfitted with lighting, ventilation systems, soil testing equipment, hoses, transformers and 298 plants at various stages of growth, he said.
Baker allegedly cultivated the marijuana at the Blue Ash warehouse and ran a separate grow location on Noble Avenue in Hamilton where agents seized 99 plants in various stages of growth.
More than 600 marijuana plants valued at $5,000 with a street value of $3 million were seized in the investigation. A mature plant can produce about a pound of pot, officials said.
Valerie Browning, superintendent of Kings Schools, which is adjacent to Mason’s school system in Deerfield Township, said Kings officials weren’t aware of the allegations that Pagenstecher was supplying their students with marijuana.
“(We were) not part of any investigation and neither the sheriff’s office nor the county prosecutor contacted us in regards to the investigation,” she said.
Dr. Gail Kist-Kline, superintendent of Mason Schools, applauded the drug task force and the prosecutor’s office for their investigation.
“We … will continue to work with them to keep our youth safe,” she said.
Fornshell cautioned parents to be more vigilant about what their teens are doing.
“You need to start digging deeper and asking some of those questions,” he said.
Enquirer reporters Michael D. Clark and Sheila McLaughlin contributed