PRINCETON — Mercer County law enforcement agencies set out to nab 39 drug suspects early Thursday. In the process, they also brought in a stash of drugs, thousands in cash, vehicles and weapons, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Timm Boggess said.

Under coordination by the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, Mercer County investigators executed four search warrants and spent the day tracking drug suspects throughout the area.

Final figures were not available on either the suspects or materials seized, but Boggess said drugs recovered included pills, marijuana, cocaine and liquid methadone. Specifically, officers said 8-10 pounds of marijuana had been seized.

Boggess said the operation focused on all regions of Mercer County, particularly Princeton, Bluefield and Montcalm/Matoaka.

The Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crime Task Force is a federally-funded group of law enforcement officers charged with taking drugs off the streets of Four Seasons Country. It includes a coordinator from the West Virginia State Police, as well as officers from the Princeton and Bluefield police departments, and the Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming county sheriffs’ departments. All of the cooperating agencies participate in large-scale round-ups, such as the one Thursday.

“I must commend all the law-enforcement agencies on their cooperation,” Boggess said. “Hopefully, that cooperation is something the community will be able to see more of.”

In 2006 alone, Sheriff Danny Wills reported that the task force and its officers launched 505 different investigations in the three counties they’re charged with serving. As of Thursday, Boggess said the group had conducted or supervised 213 controlled drug buys.

Wills said the investigations resulted in 230 drug targets, 66 of which are Mercer County residents.

Officers set out at 7 a.m. Thursday to serve 39 of those 66 warrants, which tallied 90 felony drug charges, Wills said.

By 9 a.m., the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and Magistrate Court were busy, as officers from the Bluefield and Princeton Police departments, the task force, sheriff’s department and state police processed the suspects as they arrived at the station.

One of the suspects awaited fingerprinting in her polka-dot pajamas, while others informed officers they would have to add more charges to their list if media representatives were allowed to photograph them.

“My hair ain’t even fixed. You better go somewhere else with that camera,” one of the suspects told the Princeton Times.

Another explained to officers how the arrest was ruining her honeymoon. She had planned to get married Saturday.

“This is really messin’ with my wedding plans,” she said.

Some made small talk with the investigators. Others sullenly cooperated as officers questioned them about their height, weight and hometowns and recorded new fingerprints for their files.

By midday, most of the warrants had been executed, and Boggess said more arrests would follow.

“Usually, there are some stragglers that will be coming in over the next few days,” he said.

Wills said similar round-ups are also likely in the works for early 2007.

“The reason for the division of the targets into three loads is because of the overload it causes on the court docket [if the arrests were all conducted at one time],” Wills said.

The wide-scale warrant exercise was just one way Boggess said law enforcement officials have been taking aim at the local drug problem.

“This is something the community has definitely taken a hard-line approach to,” he said.

In order to succeed, officers also need assistance from Mercer County citizens, he said.

“Most of those [investigations] were initiated by complaints made to the task force or the police agencies,” he said.

Representatives of the Princeton and Bluefield police departments, West Virginia State Police and Mercer County Sheriff’s Department were on hand for the press conference, and they all encouraged citizens to take action to stem drug sales. To do that, they urged residents to contact police agencies with concerns.

To report suspected drug activity, contact the drug task force tip line at 327-DRUGS, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department tip line at 487-8365, the West Virginia State Police at 425-2101 or Princeton Police Department at 487-5000.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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