Olathe drug ring bust shocks, worries neighbors

OLATHE, Kan. - A drug ring bust in Johnson County shocked neighbors on Wednesday morning, as federal agents raided a home near the corner of South Longview Street and South Webster in Olathe, Kan.

"Never suspected anything like this," neighbor Vaughn Airy said.

Airy lives three doors down from 41-year-old Peter Park, who federal agents believe is part of a 25-person drug ring that planned to sell 2,000 pounds of marijuana.

The investigation started back in April of 2008. Court documents lay out a series of coded phone conversations, sometimes in different languages, between the members of the alleged ring.

Arrests were made in Lenexa, Overland Park, Olathe and Kansas City, Mo.

A man charged with another felony helped investigators in moving the case forward.

According to the Department of Justice, the defendants face a penalty of not less than ten years in a federal prison and a fine up to ten million dollars.

The exposure of this drug ring and the charges that followed highlights a growing problem of drugs in the suburbs.

"People are surprised to see when that's in their own backyard, in their homes," explained Shana Burgess, director of the Johnson County Regional Prevention Center.

She showed 41 Action News an in-depth online survey that helps her office monitor the local drug problem among teenagers.

"About one in four 12th graders in Johnson County reports using marijuana in the last 30 days," she said.

The survey shows that half of all high schoolers think it's easier to get a hold of marijuana than alcohol.

"Parents can make a huge difference," said Burgess. In fact, the survey showed just over 50 percent of teens surveyed in Johnson County recall at least one of their parents talking about the harms and risks associated with drugs and alcohol.

She added that as the conversations over legalization heighten, the perceived risks associated with marijuana seem to decline in the minds of young people. But Burgess stressed that the drug is illegal.

However, the Johnson County Sheriff's Office knows where there is demand for drugs, someone will attempt to supply.

"When we see break-ins of homes, stealing, cars being burglarized, what we've found is that those people are trying to find something to sell. They are trying to find money so they can pay off drugs or support their drug habit," Deputy Rick Howell explained.

Despite the drug ring investigation led by federal agents, Howell reports the amount of street drugs confiscated by his municipality is decreasing.

According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, three meth labs were identified in Johnson county in 2011 and just one so far this year. In Kansas, 167 meth labs were identified last year.

KBI also seized 382 marijuana plants in 2011 for a total processed weight of 8.5 pounds. So far this year, the KBI shows 23 plants seized for a processed weight of a half a pound.

Howell said investigations are conducted by uniformed deputies and street-clothes deputies - but tips on drug possession and distribution can come from anywhere.

"We've had many leads that came in from out of state that led to successful prosecution of drug activity," Howell explained.

Stay tuned to 41 Action News for updates in the prosecution of the drug ring suspects.

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