Sentencing depicts dealer’s role in heroin ring

HARRISONBURG – Ronnie Maurice Jones introduced scores of Woodstock residents to heroin during the first six months of 2013, enough time for him to create what a federal prosecutor called “a tsunami of misery” in the town.

The statements of several witnesses who testified before a grand jury that indicted Jones months ago tell a story of hundreds of people who began using heroin that was made available to them through a network of dealers led by Jones.

U.S District Judge Michael F. Urbanski sentenced Jones to 23 years in prison and five years supervised probation Wednesday, the longest and last sentence to be imposed on 13 co-defendants in the case. Earlier in the day, Urbanski sentenced Kimberle Ann Hodsden, one of Jones’ co-defendants, to five years in prison and three years of supervised probation.

Jones pleaded guilty in November to three heroin-related drug charges and one count of possessing a gun after a felony conviction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Wolthuis said in an interview after the hearing that the heroin that spread through Woodstock in the first six months of 2013 was largely the work of Jones and those who bought heroin from him for their own sales and distribution.

“He provided the supply that fueled an explosion of heroin addiction in Woodstock,” Wolthuis said, adding that the jobs lost, family relationships ruined and people sickened by withdrawal symptoms were like “a tsunami of misery flowing through the town.”

Jones’ attorney, Tracy Evans of Harrisonburg, asked for a prison sentence of 18 years for his client.

In a sentencing memorandum filed before the hearing, Evans described Jones’ bleak childhood with a single mother in the housing projects of Washington, D.C,. and the path that ended with him arrested for selling heroin in the Woodstock area.

Jones’ father was a drug addict who was absent from his son’s life until he was about 15 years old, Evans said. Jones moved in with his father for about six months, but a fire linked to his father’s use of drugs destroyed the house. The two separated again after the fire.

Jones, 37, began piling up felony convictions not long after he turned 18, Evans said. At age 21, he was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison for offenses committed in Fairfax and Arlington counties. After his release from prison, Jones was convicted of credit card fraud. He was subsequently sentenced to a jail diversion program in Shenandoah County where he later found a job at George’s Chicken, Evans said.

Jones was hard pressed to make $400 a month child support payments, Evans said. Illness and a lengthy hospital stay added to his financial strains. He resumed committing a previous crime of selling marijuana, Evans said.

Evans described what happened next:

“Many people he sold marijuana to started coming to him and asking if he had heroin. They were addicted to prescription pain pills and knew that heroin was cheaper than prescription pain pills. Mr. Jones had no knowledge of heroin, as heroin was not something that was prevalent in D.C. when he was growing up. He had no idea of the devastation that it could cause to the users of the drug or their families.”

Dena Cook, a woman described in the sentencing memorandum as a local heroin seller, told Jones he could make much more money selling heroin, Evans wrote.

“She told Mr. Jones that everyone had to go to Baltimore to get their heroin and that if he was to become the source for the already existing dealers, he could make a lot more money than selling marijuana,” Evans said

Jones contacted a childhood friend, Kareem Shaw, for advice on obtaining heroin and finding suppliers, Evans wrote. Eventually, the two began making trips to New York City where they obtained heroin and resold it back in Virginia. Jones distributed hundreds of grams around the Woodstock area while Shaw concentrated on Prince William and Stafford counties.

Evans insisted that Jones “did not set up a heroin dealing network; he merely became the local source for the existing dealers. He saved the existing dealers the time and money of going to Baltimore to get their heroin.”

In his sentencing memorandum, Wolthuis also cited Cook. Her comments, taken from grand jury testimony, pinned Woodstock’s heroin epidemic squarely on Jones.

Wolthuis said the comments cited in the sentencing memorandum were paraphrases of what Cook told the grand jury:

“Heroin was something you never heard of in Woodstock until (2012). That was when Jones really started getting busy. When Jones would go out of town to resupply, 200 people I know of would get sick (go into withdrawals). They could not wait for Jones to get back and when he got back, everybody was better.”

Wolthuis also paraphrased parts of grand jury testimony given by Frances Alvarez, a co-defendant in the case:

“I’ve been in Woodstock 12 years. And I know a lot of people in the drug using community. Although heroin was present for a few people, it was very hard to get. At the end of 2012 or (the) beginning of 2013, it all changed when Ronnie Jones came to town with heroin. It just blew up. Everybody started using. I would estimate that hundreds of people were using heroin. Then after Ronnie Jones was arrested, heroin was just unavailable. Heroin was no longer available, but it did leave a trail of addicts.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com