A 10th defendant has pleaded guilty in federal court to drug charges in an investigation to one of the biggest drug rings in Arkansas and Missouri history. The meth ring was centered in Fulton and Izard counties.
Bud Cummins, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced that Ronda Jo Due entered a guilty plea in federal court Nov. 28 before United States District Judge Susan Webber Wright. Due pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.
Ronda Jo Due was the 10th defendant to plead guilty in the conspiracy. Previously nine others, Newton Barnes Willingham (aka "Bubba"), Duran Gene Willingham, Gregory Hurdle Jr., Roy Madison Hurst, John Rutherford, Daniel Neal, Richard Crabtree, Kermit Comstock and JoCosta Comstock entered similar pleas. The charges against an 11th defendant in the case, Pasty Rutherford, 36, of Viola were dismissed.
The group was charged with manufacturing at least one ounce of methamphetamine almost daily over a period of time that began in 2002 and lasted over a year. They were held responsible for manufacturing at least four kilograms of methamphetamine during the time of their conspiracy.
The case was initiated by the 16th Judicial Drug Task Force which is comprised of law enforcement officers from Fulton and Izard counties. The methamphetamine produced by these defendants was distributed throughout northeastern Arkansas and southern Missouri.
"Methamphetamine manufacture, distribution and use may be the number one problem facing Arkansas law enforcement, certainly in counties like Izard and Fulton," stated Cummins. "The drug itself is wicked enough, but people who are making it locally are creating additional problems for the community in the obvious safety hazards, the environmental consideration, and the cost of cleaning up the labs. To make it worse, children are almost always somehow involved and sometimes are seriously injured. We are focusing a lot of resources right now on sending the message to these folks that the community is sick of this behavior and the federal punishments are going to be harsh."
The United States attorney also commended the members of the 16th Judicial Drug Task Force for their work in the case and Assistant United States Attorney Ann Gardner, who not only prosecuted this particular case, but is also coordinating a districtwide federal initiative to aggressively address the district's problems with methamphetamine.
Sentencing for each of these defendants has yet to be scheduled but may occur in the spring of 2006, Cummins said.
The defendants are: Ronda Jo Due, 41, of Salem; Newton Barnes Willingham, 33, of Salem; Duran Gene Willingham, 34, of Salem; Gregory Hurdle Sr. 28, of Viola; Roy Madison Hurst, 38, of Viola; John Rutherford, 33, of Salem; Daniel Neal, 29, of Viola; Kermit Comstock, 47, of Salem; and JoCosta Comstock, 35, of Salem.