Hesseling convicted on bevy of drug charges and sentenced to 50+ years in prison

LIMA — Jurors deliberated for two hours Wednesday before returning guilty verdicts against a man prosecutors say was a key player in the manufacture and distribution of fentanyl pills and other drugs in Lima.

Ronald Hesseling II, 43, of Lima, was convicted on 22 felony counts, several of which include specifications labeling him as a major drug offender. All but two of the counts are first-degree felonies. The convictions included seven counts of possession of heroin, nine counts of possession of a fentanyl-related compound, two counts of trafficking in heroin, two counts of possession of heroin, and single counts of the illegal manufacture of drugs and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Many of the counts merged for the purpose of sentencing and Judge Terri Kohlrieser subsequently handed down a minimum prison sentence of 54 years on the remaining counts.

Hesseling became agitated after the verdicts were read, cursing at jurors as they left the courtroom and spewing obscenities at prosecutors. He the wrestled with security personnel in the hallway briefly.

Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Destiny Caldwell, addressing the court prior to sentencing, said the imposition of “anything less than consecutive (prison) sentences would be demeaning to the seriousness fentanyl is imposing upon the community.” Kohlrieser’s sentence included a mixture of concurrent and consecutive sentences.

Hesseling said he disagreed with the verdicts rendered by the jury.

“You guys got it all wrong as to who the mastermind (of the pill press operation) is,” he told the judge. “But I choose who I was hanging around with, so I guess I put that on myself.”

‘A cog in the machine’

Throughout the trial prosecutors maintained that Hesseling was an active participant in a large-scale drug distribution network fronted by Lima resident Eric Upthegrove. In his closing arguments to jurors, Assistant Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Thines said there was a “mountain of evidence” presented during the trial that linked Hesseling to the production of fentanyl pills.

Thines said the defendant was “a cog in the machine” whose job was to press fentanyl pills.

Thines also pointed to the testimony of Nicoya Darby, Upthegrove’s former girlfriend. Darby testified she had seen Hesseling operating a fentanyl pill press at a home she shared with Eric Upthegrove on Atlantic Avenue in Lima during the summer of 2021. Photos of Hesseling standing in front of a pill press at a residence on Broadway Street in Lima were also shown to jurors on Wednesday.

Darby, who faces a litany of felony criminal charges for her own role in Upthegrove’s drug ring, took the witness stand and told jurors that she has received no special treatment from prosecutors in exchange for her testimony. Thines acknowledged that some persons may question Darby’s motive in testifying. “But I believe Nicoya Darby is a credible witness. Actually, she has a good motive to tell the truth.”

Upthegrove and Darby face charges nearly identical to those faced by Hesseling after law enforcement raided Upthegrove’s Atlantic Avenue residence and the Broadway Street residence in September of 2021.

Several items were seized during a raid at the Broadway Street location that was orchestrated by the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force and included officers from the FBI, federal Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Postal Service and the federally-funded Northwest Ohio Safe Streets task force.

Investigators found electronic and hand-crank pill presses in the basement of the home, along with thousands of fentanyl pills, fentanyl powder, binding agent used to mix fentanyl pills and other drug paraphernalia.