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Berkshire Marijuana Kingpin Convicted

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Nineteen people, including a local business owner, have been convicted
of federal charges for their roles in a drug distribution ring that
brought more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from Arizona to
Berkshire County over the last two decades.

Thomas Overbaugh, owner of Taconic Valley Trucking in Pittsfield and
kingpin of the drug organization, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to
possess with the intent to distribute and the distribution of
marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering.

His guilty plea came on Sept. 30, two weeks into his trial in U.S.
District Court in Watertown, N.Y.

His longtime companion with whom he lived in Hancock and Stephentown,
N.Y., Kimberly Mitchell, 37, also pleaded guilty to money laundering

It is believed that the 41-year-old Overbaugh began the drug
organization around 1985 and made at least $7 million from the
marijuana business until his arrest in 2002, said Massachusetts State
Police Lt. Joseph McDyer, who began investigating Overbaugh in the
early 1990s.

Much of the money was laundered through Overbaugh's trucking business
on East Street, McDyer said. The federal government is now taking
action to seize that property.

Overbaugh is jailed without bail pending sentencing on Feb. 9. He
faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in federal prison, but
could be sentenced up to life and fined up to $4 million.

The case wrapped up Thursday morning when a federal jury returned
guilty verdicts against the final defendant, Juan Urias Medina, 41, of
Tucson, Ariz., who was the Mexican connection in the operation.

He was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possession with the
intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms, or over 1 ton, of marijuana.

He was indicted along with Overbaugh last year, but a warrant was
outstanding for his arrest until he was caught coming across the
Mexican border in May this year, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard
Hartunian, who prosecuted the case.

Testimony showed that Medina made frequent trips across the border
between Mexico and Arizona and then supplied the No. 2 people in
Overbaugh's organization with drugs, Hartunian said.

Kevin Driscoll, 42, his wife, Terry Driscoll, 42, both originally from
Berkshire County, and James Womble, 42, now all of Tucson, were the
"mules" in the organization, transporting thousands of pounds of
marijuana, supplied by Medina, to what authorities described as a
"stash house" at 688 Route 20 in New Lebanon, N.Y.

From there, the drugs were broken down into multipound quantities and
sold to midlevel dealers in Berkshire County.

"The marijuana was all being sold in Berkshire County," McDyer said.
"This is a small county, and this was one organization, but they were
pumping thousands of pounds of marijuana every year into Berkshire

McDyer described marijuana as the "gateway drug," a socially
acceptable drug that leads some users to try more serious drugs.

"We have kids at 10 smoking marijuana. Next thing we know, our young
people are dying of heroin overdoses," McDyer said.

Meanwhile, Overbaugh had a race car team in New Lebanon, recreational
vehicles, homes and land, and he took costly vacations, McDyer said,
"all at the expense of our kids in Berkshire County."

McDyer began investigating Overbaugh's activities in 1990, when it was
believed that he was trafficking marijuana and cocaine between New
York and Massachusetts, he said.

Because of the size of the operation, the federal Drug Enforcement
Administration became involved in 2001, involving agents in Albany,
N.Y., and Tucson. They coordinated efforts with the New York State
Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Unit, the Berkshire County
district attorney's office and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force,
comprising the Massachusetts State Police Narcotics Unit and units of
the Pittsfield, North Adams and Adams police departments and the
Berkshire County sheriff's department.

Federal warrants were obtained to install listening devices in the New
Lebanon stash house as well as on telephones in a house owned by
Overbaugh at 57 Nora Way in Stephentown, McDyer said.

For the last several years, the Stephentown home was occupied by
41-year-old Bernard O'Neil, who was being groomed to take over the
marijuana business, he said.

O'Neil was running the marijuana ring, but Overbaugh was receiving
"kickbacks" in the form of rent payments for the house, McDyer said.

Meanwhile, Overbaugh and Mitchell rented a home at 5 Babcock Road in

Prior to trial, O'Neil pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to
charges related to his role and is also awaiting sentencing.

Both the Nora Way home and the New Lebanon stash house were videotaped
24 hours a day during the investigation, allowing authorities to also
identify several of the midlevel dealers in the operation, McDyer said.

As a result, 12 other Berkshire County residents were indicted on
federal charges. All have pleaded guilty and some have been sentenced
to periods of probation and house arrest. Others are still awaiting

The co-defendants are George Fuller, 48, of Hinsdale, who pleaded
guilty on Oct. 1 to conspiracy to possess with the intent to
distribute and the distribution of marijuana; Shane Powers, 32, of
Pittsfield; Charles Smith, 42, of Pittsfield; Francis Rocca, 54, of
Pittsfield; Robert Morgan, 36, of North Adams; Patricia DeGroat, 47,
of Pittsfield; Steven Fronsman, 40, of Williamstown; Peter Gigliotti,
43, of North Adams; Christopher Cutler, 37, of North Adams; Thomas
Lusignan, 36, of Pittsfield; Joshua Gallagher, 25, of North Adams; and
Robert Cooney, 41, of Adams.

As part of their guilty pleas, Overbaugh and Mitchell agreed to
forfeit proceeds of the marijuana operation, including the Stephentown

Authorities have seized, so far, $2.6 million in proceeds, including
nearly a half-million dollars in cash that was found at O'Neil's and
the Driscolls' residences and the stash house in New Lebanon.

The Driscolls' home, which was built by Overbaugh, was seized, as well
as Womble's home, several vehicles owned by the dealers and vintage
automobiles and jewelry owned by the Driscolls.

Authorities have also taken roughly 300 acres of land owned by
Overbaugh on West Hill Road in New Lebanon, where he reportedly
planned to build a large house.

The stash house was rented by the Driscolls from an older couple who
were not aware of the drug activity and have not been implicated in
any wrongdoing, Hartunian said.

Taconic Valley Trucking and the property on which it is located is
still the subject of federal litigation. The business is still being
operated, but not by Overbaugh. The impact of the investigation and
ensuing arrests is difficult to gauge, McDyer said. Marijuana was
harder to come by in Berkshire County for about six months following
the arrests, he said.

But the demand for the drug remained strong and dealers eventually
found other sources, he said.

And so the investigation continues.

Pubdate: Sat, 04 Oct 2003
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (MA)
Copyright: 2003 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Contact: letters@berkshireeagle.com
Website: Home | The Berkshire Eagle