PIKEVILLE – A federal jury has convicted a Magoffin County man on charges he masterminded a multi-million drug trafficking network.
Howard Harlo Back, 76, of the Lick Branch Community off KY 378, was found guilty Wednesday, January 30, on one count of conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone and 12 counts of distribution of Oxycodone after a three-day trial held in U.S. District Court in Pikeville.
Four other individuals involved in the conspiracy – 27-year-old Jeff Bailey, 51-year-old Matt Bailey Sr., 29-year-old Matt Bailey Jr., and 45-year-old Donald “Donnie” Trusty, all of Magoffin County – had previously pleaded guilty to their part in the operation and testified against Back.
It took the jury less than two hours to return the verdict. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Dotson.
All five men are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar on May 8, 2013.
Back was arrested on federal drug conspiracy charges March 16, 2012, following a joint investigation conducted by the Magoffin County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Operation UNITE.
“At the time of his arrest, Mr. Back was returning from Florida with approximately 140 Oxycodone tablets intended for sale in Magoffin County,” said Keith Napier, manager of UNITE’s Big Sandy Drug Task Force. “The other four individuals were arrested a short time later.”
“Residents have reported that they have noticed a sharp decline in the availability of Oxycodone in Magoffin County since we made the arrests,” Napier added. “This joint investigation has taken a major dealer off the streets.”
Magoffin County Sheriff Carson Montgomery helped lead the 14-month undercover investigation that began after police began receiving “a lot of reports of drug trafficking from multiple residents” in the Lick Branch area, Napier said. “We were able to establish that this was a very highly organized distribution network and Mr. Back was the central figure.”
Sheriff Montgomery, UNITE detectives and DEA agents conducted 13 controlled purchases of Oxycodone pills, all of which are believed to have been obtained in Florida.
“Conservatively, we know Mr. Back is responsible for more than 38,000 pills being brought to Magoffin County from Florida over the course of our investigation,” Napier said. “With a street value of between $35 and $40 per pill, this quantity would have been worth approximately $1.5 million.”
A search warrant served at Back’s home on February 29, 2012, by Sheriff Montgomery, UNITE, the DEA and Kentucky State Police resulted in the seizure of a quantity of pills from Florida and other items related to the drug trafficking operation.
Back is no stranger to the legal system.
In 1991 he was sentenced on a manslaughter conviction and in 2004 he was sentenced on solicitation to murder and facilitation of arson charges. Both cases were in Magoffin County.
Back is currently being held at the Pike County Detention Center.