A second person has agreed to plead guilty in connection with what authorities think is a top-level drug ring with Greenwood ties that bought fentanyl and other drugs from Mexico and operated stash houses in Laurens County.
Kevin O’Neill “Man” Wheeler, of 6145 Highway 221, Laurens will plead guilty to maintaining a stash house and felon in possession of a firearm, according to an agreement filed Tuesday.
His other charges — conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, unlawful use of communication facility and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances — will be dismissed under the agreement, although he can be tried on those counts if he violates any terms of the plea agreement.
All 13 people indicted in connection with the ring entered pleas of not guilty, including Wheeler. He could formally change his plea as soon as Tuesday.
The investigation traces its roots to a series of drug buys in October 2017.
In a joint investigation, Greenwood police and State Law Enforcement Division officers bought more than 300 fentanyl pills across five controlled purchases. Investigating the source for those pills led to what U.S. Drug Enforcement agents believed was a “drug trafficking organization.”
“Based on law enforcement sources of information, confidential source information, undercover law enforcement operations and an ongoing financial investigation, local law enforcement identified” four Greenwood-connected people “as distributors of significant quantities of cocaine and heroin and fentanyl,” prosecutors wrote in a motion for pretrial detention order. Greenwood police said once they understood the scope of the operation, they referred the case to the DEA.
Court documents detail investigators tapping phones, planting a surveillance camera and undercover agents posing as representatives of a Mexican drug cartel while gathering the evidence used to indict 11 people in February, with two additional people — including Wheeler — being charged through a 46-count superseding indictment handed up last month.
Wheeler’s residence in Laurens was the ring’s second stash house, according to an affidavit for a search warrant.
Investigators reported intercepting phone calls between Wheeler and Detric McGowan, who authorities describe as a key member of the ring. McGowan captured headlines ahead of his arrest after buying all of the cookies a group of Girl Scouts had for sale — $540 worth — so the girls could get out of the cold. In the phone calls, McGowan talked about setting “what’s its name up” and said he needed to come back over to “finish what’s a name,” which DEA agents took to refer to an electric pill press. Wheeler also gave McGowan the access code to his security alarm.
The affidavit notes that McGowan ordered replacement parts for a model of pill press capable of producing at least 5,000 pills per hour. Investigators believe the ring was pressing pills out of the fentanyl, heroin and cocaine to distribute across the Carolinas.
While executing the search warrants, agents found a Ruger 10/22 carbine as well as .22-caliber and .223-caliber ammunition. The affidavit says Wheeler has a 2009 conviction in South Carolina on a count of accessory after the fact to a felony.
Officers also seized about a pound of blue pills, 1 kilogram of marijuana and containers with an unspecified amount of powder believed to be fentanyl and heroin, along with a respirator, plastic baggies, packaging materials and substances “believed to be cutting agents” from Wheeler’s house, according to court documents.
In the plea agreement, Wheeler admitted to knowingly allowing his residence to be used “for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance” and to possessing a firearm as a felon.
Wheeler could face up to 20 years in prison on the stash house count and 10 years on the felon in possession of a handgun charge.