By Matt Snyder
MERCER, VENANGO COUNTIES — The state Attorney General announced Friday 23 arrests in a sophisticated, $1 million meth lab organization spread mostly through rural Mercer and Venango counties.
The alleged ring leader in the meth lab and pill-shopping operation is a Stoneboro area man, Rockne K. “Rocky” Barber Sr., 62, of 271 Henderson Road in Venango County.
“Barber is accused of producing methamphetamine, using an underground lab located in a manmade cave that was hidden in a hillside near his home,” Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a news release.
The drug organization produced and sold about $1 million worth of meth over four years, Corbett said. Agents from his office searched Barber’s property April 24 and seized the fully operational lab in a cave at the rear of Barber’s home.
Agents found about $15,000 worth of “meth oil,” the final production step before the drug is finished. They also found chemicals, supplies, $20,000 and 63 weapons, including an automatic machine gun.
A grand jury accused Barber of receiving help from Roland W. Rodkey, 52, Franklin, and James Lawrentz, 40, of 119 Fairgrounds Road, Sandy Lake Township. They recruited and directed addicts to shop for meth ingredients at pharmacies on a careful schedule to avoid attracting attention, Corbett said.
The main ingredient for meth, pseudoephedrine, is kept behind the counter in stores because federal law limits how much of the drug can be purchased each day by any individual, Corbett said.
To get around those limitations, he said Barber used a “no pills, no meth” policy and refused to sell drugs to anyone unless they brought packages of pseudoephedrine along with their money.
Barber, Rodkey and Lawrentz are charged with participating in a corrupt organization, drug law violations and conspiracy to break drug and meth laws.
Barber and Lawrentz are also charged with criminal use of communication devices.
Others involved in buying, selling or passing out meth or meth-related items are charged with conspiracy to violate drug and meth laws, said Corbett.
The 10 other Mercer County suspects charged by the grand jury are:
• Thomas W. Beighley, 40, of 3551 Sandy Lake-Lebanon Road, Sandy Lake Township.
• Glen E. Bennefield, 41, of 295 Patton Road, Mill Creek Township.
• Keith A. Bence, 42, of 21074 Hendersonville Road, Sandy Lake Township.
• Dennis J. Clark, 42, of 791 Orchard Road, Lackawannock Township.
• Machelle Lynn Hoover, 40, of 24 Windsong Trail, Coolspring Township.
• Constance Joy, 39, of 55 Wengler Ave., Sharon.
• Ray E. McCool III, 31, of 513 N. Broad St., Grove City.
• Tracy Puglusch, 37, of 360 N. Foster Road, Jackson Township.
• Stephen Ira Slater, 46, of 590 Billy Boyd Road, New Vernon Township.
• Slater’s wife, Ronda Claire Slater, 47, of 137 Obitz Road, Mill Creek Township.
The grand jury also charged these 10 people:
• Barber’s son, Clarence “Clint” Barber, 37, same address as his father.
• John Leroy Kellner, 44, of 1749 Raymilton Road, Venango County.
• Steven Ray Malone, 38, of 3583 Old state Route 8, Venango County.
• Ray McCool’s brother, Shawn T. McCool, 29, of 1820 Slatertown Road, Venango County.
• Tracey Lynn Lewis, 40, Ashville, Tenn.
• Michael Owens, 33, Kennerdell.
• Justin Bradley Walker, 29, Oil City.
• Walker’s wife, Amber Walker, 25, Oil City.
• Amber Walker’s sister and Roland Rodkey’s daughter, Jodi Rae Walker, 28, of 1436 Valley Road, Venango County.
• Shawn Patrick Witherup, 48, Kennerdell.
All charges were filed before Emlenton District Judge Douglas Gerwick and will be prosecuted in Venango County Common Pleas Court.
Corbett said there’s an ongoing investigation into the flow of meth lab chemicals, cash and weapons through northwestern Pennsylvania and more arrests are expected.