Testimony describes large-scale drug operation at Hesseling trial

LIMA — The trial for a Lima man accused of operating a fentanyl pill press from the basement of a Broadway Street home started Tuesday in Allen County Common Pleas Court.

Ronald Hesseling II, 42, is the first of three defendants charged for their alleged role in the operation to stand trial, but Tuesday’s testimony revolved around co-defendant Eric Upthegrove, who became the center of a year-long investigation by the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force.

In her opening statement, Allen County Prosecutor Destiny Caldwell told jurors the state would show that it was Hesseling pressing pills in that Broadway Street basement.

Hesseling, Caldwell said, did so in conjunction with Upthegrove.

The state’s first witness, investigator Aaron Montgomery, described for jurors the controlled drug buys that led the task force to Upthegrove and a package of pill-binding agents, known as binders, reportedly intercepted by the U.S. Postal Service on its way to Upthegrove’s home.

Investigators believed those binders would lead them to a large-scale “pill mill,” Montgomery said.

They reportedly found that pill mill at 765 Broadway St., where Montgomery said investigators spotted a white male leaving the residence with Upthegrove shortly before they executed search warrants there and at Upthegrove’s home on Sept. 11 and 12, 2021.

Investigators reportedly recovered thousands of pressed fentanyl pills, mixed fentanyl powder, pill binders and two pill presses from the Broadway Street home, as well as a “significant” amount of suspected fentanyl, guns, currency and items to press the pills from Upthegrove’s nearby Atlantic Avenue residence, according to Montgomery and Caldwell.

Asked if investigators were able to identify the man seen with Upthegrove at the Broadway Street home that day, Montgomery identified the man as Hesseling.

Montgomery, the only witness to take the stand Tuesday afternoon, is continuing his testimony Wednesday.

Hesseling faces 22 felony drug charges, including nine counts of possession of a fentanyl-related compound; two counts of trafficking a fentanyl-related compound; seven counts of possession of heroin; two counts of trafficking in heroin; one count of illegal manufacture of drugs and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity after the state dismissed 29 of the 51 counts against him before trial Tuesday.

Hesseling rejected an offer from prosecutors in May, during which his attorney Anthony VanNoy told Common Pleas Court Judge Terri Kohlrieser Hesseling has “always maintained his innocence” and could not accept a deal.

Upthegrove, who faces 57 felony charges, has yet to stand trial after reportedly removing his ankle monitor and fleeing before a pre-trial hearing in March. Nicoya Darby, who lived with Upthegrove at the time, also faces felony charges for her alleged role in the operation.