COLUMBUS -- Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recognized the 2019 Law Enforcement Conference award winners Wednesday during a luncheon ceremony in Columbus.

Among those honorees were a group of north central Ohio officers involved with a wide-ranging METRICH operation.

“All the good things that make a society healthy and prosperous rest on the foundation of public safety and the men and women who protect the unprotected,” Yost said. “I’m proud to honor these award winners who truly represent the ‘best of the best’ and have exhibited diligence, dedication and sacrifice in the name of public safety.”

According to Yost, the Metropolitan Richland County Drug Enforcement Unit took down a multilayered drug trafficking organization, an investigation that resulted in significantly less violent crime and illegal drugs in the Mansfield area.

As part of Operation Hadley’s Hope, METRICH dismantled a complex drug trafficking organization that was importing heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and prescription pills into the Mansfield area. The organization, which also trafficked in stolen firearms, was responsible for multiple fatal overdoses and shootings.

Relying on their best investigative assets and techniques, the partner agencies established a phased plan to identify the various layers of the criminal organization, Yost said. Their tools included controlled drug purchases, wire-taps and data analysis. They intercepted thousands of communications and tracked financial records that led to co-conspirators in states beyond Ohio, including California, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan.

The operation targeted more than 150 people combined, culminating in February 2019 in an arrest operation involving more than 300 law enforcement officers, including seven tactical teams in other states.

Almost 120 criminals were indicted on federal and state drug charges and in other violent felony cases, dozens of weapons were seized, and the organization was completely dismantled. The availability of illegal drugs plummeted in the Mansfield area.

As a direct result of the investigation, violent crime has fallen in the region and community members have been more willing to cooperate with law enforcement.

Those law enforcement officers specifically cited by the Attorney General include:

Mansfield Police Department: Detective Sgt. Stephen Blust, Detective Nicole Gearhart, Lt. Joseph Petrycki, Detective Sgt. Joseph Soehnlen, Detective Perry Wheeler.

Ashland Police Department: Detective Brian Evans

Richland County Sheriff’s Office: Detective Wayne Liggett, Detective Chris Rahall

FBI: Special Agent Matthew Komar, Special Agent John Minichello, Special Agent Drew Stragar-Rice.

Marion Police Department: Detective David Troutman.

Drug Enforcement Administration: Group Supervisor Quinn Auten.

More information about each award winner is available in the event program.

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