U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady heralds Mike Warfield as one of the most outstanding drug prosecutors that Pennsylvania has ever seen.
Warfield as a former Lawrence County narcotics detective has had a strong role in the arrest of multiple drug dealers in a cocaine operation that spanned from California to Florida, with most of the activity originating in New Castle.
After a 11/2-year stint with the Lawrence County District Attorney’s office, the 50-year-old officer has moved onto to higher ground, taking on the position of law enforcement coordinator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Pennsylvania where he is continuing the region’s war on drugs and serious crime.
Brady personally chose him for the job.
“Mike was a natural choice for me and for the office. We’re absolutely thrilled that he is a part of it,” Brady said in a phone interview last week. “Mike clearly was head and shoulders above the other candidates who applied.”
Warfield, a retired state trooper and more recently a detective with the special investigative unit under District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa, was appointed to the federal post in December.
One of his pivotal roles in Lawrence County was to aid in the investigation of a sizable cocaine ring spanning California to Ohio to Florida. The investigation was under way when he started working in Lamancusa’s office and involved accused drug dealers in Lawrence, Beaver and Allegheny counties.
“It was a multi-kilo investigation that was operating out of New Castle,” he said, “All of the members of that group went to the federal penitentiary.”
A grand jury in Pittsburgh in May indicted 17 people in four states — California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — on charges of violating federal narcotics, money laundering and postal laws. Three separate but related indictments were returned on May 8 and unsealed.
Brady at the time called it one of the largest cocaine distribution rings in western Pennsylvania.
Warfield became a state trooper in 1993 and graduated from the state police academy in 1994. He worked on turnpike patrol until 1999, when he entered the state police Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement in Belle Vernon. His work covered five counties in southwestern Pennsylvania investigating drug trafficking gangs who were involved in narcotics and were engaged in violence.
“I always wanted to get into drug law enforcement and do something proactive,” he said. His sergeant at the time was promoted, “and he pulled me in.”
In 2004, Warfield moved into working as a trooper with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Pittsburgh as a task force officer.
“That took me to all counties, including Lawrence County, and out of state,” he said, and that remained his work until he retired in 2018.
Then Lamancusa hired him as his own detective, but wanted him to stay with the DEA, he said. He started in the district attorney’s office on Aug. 27, three days after he retired as a trooper. One of his main tasks was the cocaine network investigation where 17 were arrested on federal charges that are still pending in the courts.
“They were very significant,” he said, adding that some people who are under investigation have not yet been indicted. Warfield said he anticipates more arrests to come.
“I worked in hand with the New Castle police and the Lawrence County Drug Task Force,” he said.
His appointment by Brady came about from his experience in federal law enforcement. Working with the DEA, many of his cases were federal, and he found himself often in court as a federal witness, working with Brady.
Warfield spoke highly of working with Lamancusa.
“The things that he’s trying to do for Lawrence County is exactly how it is supposed to be,” he said, complimenting him for hiring effective detectives and moving them into their own building in the former Krause Shelter. He continues to work with Lamancusa between the U.S. Attorney’s office and the district attorney’s office, he said, adding, “What he’s doing is excellent.”
He added that the New Castle Police Department’s narcotics bureau has played a significant role in drug interdiction.
“Most of the crimes committed are surrounding drug activity,” he explained. “The narcotics units and task force will do the work and be a deterrent, just by being visible in the community. We need to hit all levels of the dealers.
“With the community’s DEA affiliation, you get the best of both worlds, and some of these dealers need to be charged federally,” Warfield said. Because federal sentencing guidelines are more stringent for offenders, a lot of times, people cooperate, he said. Thus, federal agencies having a presence in town has an effect of less (drug or criminal) activity.
In his new role, Warfield hopes to be of more assistance in Lawrence County, he said.
“I respect Josh. I hated when it came time to leave (his office’s employ), but it was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up at this point in my life.”
Warfield was the lead agent in the arrests of 11 individuals in Ellwood City who were accused of dealing in heroin and indicted on federal charges about nine months ago, Lamancusa said, and he led the investigation on the multistate cocaine network case.
“He’s handled thousands of cases,” he continued. “He’s a consummate professional and respected by his peers, and he’s an overall great guy. His expertise and presence will be greatly missed in my office, but I’m happy for him.”
A resident of Beaver County, Warfield is originally from Aliquippa, where he played high school football and basketball. He has been the Aliquippa High School’s head football coach for two seasons. Last year, its team won the state championship, and this year it lost in the WPIAL championship. His goal is to make sure the team members study and remain productive scholastically after football season is over, he said.
Warfield had obtained a football scholarship to a small school, and the coaching job gave him a chance to be productive in the sport, he said, adding, “I love the kids, and it was my opportunity to be able to just give back.”
Brady said he chose Warfield for the highest crime position in the region after working with him on several cases and seeing his effectiveness.
Every U.S. Attorney’s office has a law enforcement coordinator, he said. Warfield is the primary agent working with state and local law enforcement partners.
“A lot of our cases sometimes generate from those, or are a part of broader task forces, so we act and interact with them all the time,” Brady explained of the local and police agencies. Warfield’s job is to make sure that communication is ongoing, conduct trainings and act as a conduit to give local agencies information about grants and other resources.
“It’s a mission-critical position,” Brady said, adding that his office had not filled the position since 2004.
“I knew when I came into my position that job was something that absolutely had to be filled,” he said. With Warfield as a state trooper and later a task force officer working with the DEA, Brady as a prosecutor between 2004 to 2010 had worked on several cases with him.
“He is revered by everyone,” Brady said. “He walks into a room and is a gracious, self-effacing and personable, but carries instant credibility from local to state law enforcement. That’s absolutely critical.”
He added that Warfield represents his office and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Western District includes 25 counties covering about 4 million people, Brady said, and it is in charge of prosecuting all criminal activity in the 25 counties.