Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries was awakened at 2:38 a.m. Thursday by a call from his brother, Cpl. Cary Fries, a member of the SWAT Team.
“You’ve got to come out and see this,” the sheriff said his brother told him.
Cpl. Fries was at a two-story home just outside Harlan with other SWAT officers and members of the Allen County Drug Task Force. At 22633 Antwerp Road, they saw something many thought they’d ever see only on television.
Wrapped in plastic and stacked in three rooms and some half-ton safes was roughly 6,700 pounds of marijuana with a conservatively estimated street value of $6 million, leaving the home reeking of the drug.
A six-month investigation into 29-year-old Matthew McChesney and a Wednesday night traffic stop led the task force to the home.
Labeled by officials as the largest drug bust in Allen County history, it’s a major score for a task force that had been under fire from Fries, who demanded much more than what was being produced.
“I let them know the drug problem is important to me, and that it should be important to them,” Fries said. “I wanted them to rededicate themselves to the task before them. They did.”
According to Fries, in 2007 the task force made three times as many busts as it had in the previous three years combined.
The task force has also operated more regularly within the Fort Wayne city limits than in the past, even raiding two city homes in June of last year, which led to the arrest of a 74-year-old man accused of dealing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school. The move into the city was something Fries had said would happen, though many drug investigations there are handled by the Fort Wayne Police Department.
So far this year the team — composed of sheriff’s officers, New Haven Police and Huntington City Police officers and an FBI agent — has been called out three or four times for busts that have ended long investigations, according to Fries, who said he is pleased with that rate.
“The citizens of Allen County should be proud of their narcotics officers,” said Fries, who was congratulating many members at the home Thursday.
Thursday’s raid began with a traffic stop of McChesney the night before, when he was clocked going 8 mph over the speed limit near the intersection of State Boulevard and Reed Road.
Inside the 2008 Chevy with Illinois plates that McChesney drove, police said they found 12 pounds of marijuana and about $100,000.
The task force shortly after received a search warrant for the Antwerp Road home, a two-story home flanked by a field with a pond in the back yard. The SWAT Team helped execute the search, and had no trouble at all finding the drugs, which were stashed in two rooms in the basement, a bedroom and some safes.
McChesney is being held on a federal hold, keeping him from bonding out of Allen County Jail on various drug-dealing charges. Federal prosecutors are able to pick up the case because the amount of marijuana was well over 200 pounds, and Fries, as well as sheriff’s department spokesman Sgt. Steve Stone said McChesney faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
An AK–47 and several handguns also were found in the home, though Fries said they appeared to be legal.
He could only speculate on where the marijuana came from, and quickly tossed out the notion that it could have been grown locally since the growing season in the Midwest would make such a large amount impossible.
And the investigation is ongoing. Police expect more arrests and also raided three or four Fort Wayne homes either owned by or connected to McChesney in some way.
It was clear what officers’ hopes were at the scene, as well as where some thought the drugs were initially headed.
“This will definitely dry up the streets of Fort Wayne,” Stone said.
Investigators would not comment whether more money was found at the home, but they did confiscate anything of value inside since it was deemed to be bought with drug money.
For nearly three hours, officers loaded the bales of marijuana into a moving truck so the cache could be hauled away and destroyed. They then began removing big-screen televisions, speakers, DVD players and weightlifting equipment, even a treadmill.
Officers confiscated a green John Deere tractor, but left the “Star Wars” action figures and memorabilia that littered McChesney’s basement, where more than 5,000 pounds of the marijuana was found in a couple of rooms, stored in black plastic trash bags.
They couldn’t seize the home because it is owned by someone else, according to records, an individual who owns several properties in the Harlan and Fort Wayne areas. McChesney rented the home.
As for the task force members, “I congratulated them for a job well done. Then I asked them when the next drug raid was,” Fries said.