By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
SHELBYVILLE - Police began rounding up dozens of suspected drug dealers Wednesday as part of a yearlong investigation of street-level drug sales.
Officers fanned out across Shelby County, searching for 72 suspects named in sealed indictments returned last week, Kentucky State Police said.
A city police officer credited with helping unearth the illicit trade called it the largest drug bust in years in Shelbyville, 30 miles east of Louisville.
By midday, police had arrested 34 suspects, state police Lt. Kevin Payne said. Troopers from five posts assisted Shelbyville police and the Shelby County sheriff's office, Payne said.
Handcuffed suspects were brought to an old firehouse for processing before being taken to jail. Those indicted by a Shelby County grand jury were charged with more than 100 trafficking offenses, and some also were charged with being persistent felons, authorities said.
Payne said the crackdown struck at the heart of the drug trade by focusing on suspected dealers instead of their customers.
"We've kind of moved up the ladder," Payne said. "We've gotten some dealers, and we've gotten their dealers."
He said police confiscated marijuana and cocaine but had no estimate of street value.
Shelbyville police Sgt. Toby Lewis called it the city's biggest drug bust since 1989, when he joined the police force.
Lewis said citizen complaints were crucial in advancing the investigation over the past 13 months.
Relatives of some suspects offered information in hopes of getting them off drug habits, he said. Others complained of drug sales in their neighborhoods. "It was very blatant, out in the open," Lewis said.
Payne said the roundup actually began two weeks ago when federal, state and local authorities made several arrests at a Shelbyville bar.
Authorities reported confiscating 11/2 kilos of cocaine, a half-pound of marijuana, a gun and $6,000 in cash from one suspect. "This guy was a major drug dealer in Shelbyville," Payne said.
State police spent more than $60,000 as part of the investigation. Payne said they hoped to recoup at least part of the cost by seizing suspects' assets, including vehicles and cash.
The drug trade uncovered in Shelbyville was symptomatic of a statewide scourge, Payne said.
"The drug problem we've got is going on everywhere," he said. "It would not surprise me to see this kind of activity going on in any other town in Kentucky."
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