Lima man charged with drug trafficking rejects deal at 11th hour

LIMA — A Lima man charged with multiple felony counts for his alleged role in a fentanyl distribution ring made a last-minute decision to forego a plea change Tuesday morning in Allen County Common Pleas Court.

Ronald Hesseling II, 42, faces 51 charges of trafficking a fentanyl-related compound, possession of a fentanyl-related compound, trafficking in heroin, possession of heroin, having a weapon under disability, possession of marijuana, illegal manufacturing of drugs and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. He had recently indicated to his attorney that he was prepared to accept an unspecified plea offer from prosecutors.

Upon his arrival in court on Tuesday, however, Hesseling through his legal counsel declined the state’s offer and elected to take his case to trial.

“Mr. Hesseling has always maintained his innocence and has indicated to me that he could not enter into a plea deal,” said defense attorney Anthony VanNoy.

Assistant Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Mariah Cunningham said the previous offer is now “off the table” and that no future deals will be offered. Judge Terri Kohlrieser also said the court would not accept a future plea deal and that a trial date for Hesseling would be scheduled.

Hesseling, Eric Upthegrove Jr. and Nicoya Darby were charged as major drug offenders and were indicted on multiple charges by the same session of the grand jury.

Upthegrove, who was indicted on 57 felony charges, cut off his ankle monitoring device and fled. He continues to evade law enforcement.

Darby is charged with 54 felony counts.

According to court documents, the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force and North West Ohio Safe Streets Task Force conducted or participated in the investigation of events surrounding drug activity in Lima. The task force on the evening of Sept. 11 into the morning of Sept. 12 executed a search warrant at 929 Atlantic Ave., Lima. The residence was identified as that of Darby and Upthegrove.

Inside the residence were “hundreds of pieces of suspected drug residue, guns, drug paraphernalia … and significant amounts of suspected fentanyl.”

Hesseling was arrested following a task force search that same day at 765 Broadway Ave., Lima. He had been observed at that address just prior to the execution of the search warrant and, along with Upthegrove, had been observed leaving the address. Inside the home police found “significant amounts” of suspected fentanyl, according to court records.

The West Central Ohio Crime Task Force and North West Ohio Safe Streets Task Force were assisted in the raids by the Allen County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team.