FOUR PLEAD GUILTY IN PANDEMIC SCHEME
Four People Have Been Sentenced In U.S. District Court In Abingdon Virginia After Being Convicted In A Pandemic Unemployment Fraud And Mail Fraud Scheme. 43 Year Old Randall Johnson Of Castlewood Will Serve Two Years In Prison, 34 Year Old Steven Mullins Of Big Stone Gap Will Spend 27 Months Behind Bars And 43 Year Old Patrick Payne Of Big Stone Gap Was Sentenced To Two Years In Prison. Prosecutors Said All Three Conspired With 30 Others To Defraud The Government By Filing Claims For More Than $499,000 In Pandemic Unemployment Benefits.
Lebanon, VA – On May 25, 2021, Thomas Scott Gross, a 29-year-old man from Cedar Bluff, Virginia, entered a guilty plea to rape of a child under age thirteen in the Russell County Circuit Court. Following a sentencing hearing on November 23, 2021, Gross was sentenced to 50 years in prison, with 20 years suspended. He will also have to register as sex offender and be on indefinite probation upon his release. The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred between 2014 and 2015. The rape was later reported in July 2019. At the sentencing hearing, the victim’s mother asked the court to impose a life sentence and the Commonwealth’s Attorney adopted that request. Although a life sentence was not imposed, the sentence was above the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines recommendation. Commonwealth’s Attorney Zack Stoots stated, “This is a tragic case in which an adult took advantage of the victim because of age. No child should ever have to endure this abuse and hopefully the sentence imposed will deter further vile acts such as this one.” “We will continue to work jointly with our community partners and citizens to stop the victimization of children in Russell County and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Sheriff Steve Dye. This investigation was conducted by the Russell County Sheriff's Office, with the assistance of the CARE Center, the Russell County Hospital, and Ultra Health. The case was prosecuted by Chief Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jessica Jackson.
Body found on Park Avenue in Norton on Monday morning has been identified. The Norton Police Department reports that police responded to the 800 block of Park Avenue Northwest at around 8 a.m. Monday after a passerby found a body in the downtown area. The body has been identified as 30-year-old Lindsey Kayla Allen, of Norton. No evidence has been found to suggest foul play at this time. The NPD continues to work closely with Allen's family during their time of grief and as the investigation is ongoing.
A hit-and-run at the Norton Walmart leaves no serious injuries. The Norton Police Department reports that a father was pushing a shopping cart with his 5-year-old child when a 2015 silver Ford Explorer hit the father and the cart. The collision pushed the cart but neither the father or child were seriously hurt and they were both treated by EMS at the scene. The driver of the Ford fled the scene and surveillance video was unable to capture the license plate number. If anyone has any information, they are asked to call the NPD at 276-679-1212.
Big Stone Gap fallen officer's body will be escorted back today. Big Stone Gap police officer Michael Chandler's body is scheduled to be escorted back today beginning at noon. First responders including law enforcement, fire, and EMS will escort Chandler's body from the Medical Examiner's Office in Roanoke to Big Stone Gap. The procession will travel on Interstate 81 South, Route 19, 58 West through Coeburn, the City of Norton, and 23 South. Leading the group will be Chandler's wife, Wise County Sheriff's Deputy Natasha Smith Chandler. First responders are encouraged to join in the procession and to be stationed at bridge overpasses along the way.
BIG STONE GAP POLICE OFFICER DIES FOLLOWING SATURDAY MORNING SHOOTING, SUSPECT IN CUSTODY
Big Stone Gap police officer shot and killed early Saturday morning. Big Stone Gap police officer Michael Chandler was found unconscious in a ditch by a Wise County Sheriff's Deputy along the driveway at a residence in the 2500 block of Orr Street Saturday morning. Virginia State Police reports that Chandler had responded to an empty house on Orr Street at just after 4 a.m. Saturday to perform a welfare check on an individual who was inside. When he arrived, it is believed that he encountered "at least one individual" and was shot. Chandler was transported from the scene to Norton Community Hospital where he was flown to Johnson City Medical Center. Later Saturday evening, Big Stone Gap Police Chief Steve Hamm announced that Chandler died as a result of his injuries at 7 p.m. A 33-year-old Big Stone Gap man, who is the suspect in the shooting of Chandler, was arrested at around 8 p.m. Saturday at the Travel Inn in the 800 block of Lynn Garden Drive in Kingsport. The man is in custody on probation violations out of Wise County and South Carolina, while the charges in the case of the shooting of Chandler are pending at this time. The investigation by the Wise County Sheriff's Office, Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney, and Big Stone Gap Police Department remains ongoing at this time and no further details, including the name of the suspect, have been released. The U.S. Marshals Service, FBI, Kingsport Police Department, KPD's Criminal Investigations Division, KPD's SWAT Team, and the Bristol, Virginia Police Department assisted with the apprehension of the suspect in Kingsport. November 13 was also Chandler's birthday, he was 29.
Wise County authorities are looking for a vehicle and driver following a hit-and-run Wednesday evening. Virginia State Police reports that an adult male was jogging on Hurricane Road toward Johns Road between 6:10 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when he was struck by a vehicle, believed to be a 1999 to 2001 Jeep Cherokee. The jogger was thrown into a ditch and discovered by a passerby several minutes later. He was then flown to the Johnson City Medical Center for treatment of serious injuries. The Jeep failed to stop at the scene. It should have damage to the front and or side and is missing its passenger-side mirror. If anyone has any information on the Jeep, they are asked to call the VSP at 276-228-3131.
A Russell County woman is facing welfare fraud charges. The Russell County Department of Social Services reports that Sondra Leigh Turner had allegedly gave false information to the Department since December 2016. The false information reportedly allowed her to receive more than $46,000 in snap assistance, $54,000 in Medicaid assistance, and $1,800 in energy assistance that Turner was not eligible for. She has been charged with one count of fraudulently obtaining or attempting to obtain public assistance, one count of making false statements to obtain benefits, and one count of false application.
Virginia Senator Todd Pillion Has Been Elected To Serve As Chairman Of A Committee Created To Allot Money Received In A Major Opioid Settlement. Virginia Is Expected To Receive Around 530 Million Dollars As Part Of The Settlement. The Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority Was Created To Oversee A Fund To Support Treatment, Prevention And Reduction Of Opioid Abuse.
WISE, Va. — Wise County Sheriff Grant Kilgore and Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Slemp announced today that multiple law enforcement agencies have launched a major drug-related mass-arrest operation within Southwest Virginia. The effort represents the culmination of a lengthy investigation by the Wise County Sheriff's Department, with assistance from the Southwest Virginia Regional Narcotics Task Force and its member agencies. The operation is being dubbed "Operation COVID Clean-up."
On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, officers from the Wise County Sheriff's Department conducted a "mass arrest" of over fifty individuals who were recently indicted by the multijurisdictional grand jury and regular grand jury in Wise County with over 100 charges for numerous drug related offenses. The arrests stem from an extensive investigation involving illegal drug activity, specifically the dangerous schedule II controlled drug methamphetamine.
Officers from the Southwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force, Virginia State Police, Norton City Police Department, Coeburn Police Department, Town of Wise Police Department, St. Paul Police Department, Big Stone Gap Police Department, Lee County Sheriff's Department, Scott County Sheriff's Department, and Wise County Sheriff's Department joined forces for the operation today in a coordinated effort.
Commonwealth's Attorney Slemp said, "Early this morning, law enforcement officers from across our region launched an operation to clean up our streets. As we speak, they are still in the field, making arrests, and continuing with their efforts. Together, we are taking a very public and immediate action against the trade of illegal and dangerous narcotics, specifically methamphetamine. Meth is a dangerous, highly-addictive drug with scary side effects. We will continue our efforts by aggressively prosecuting these cases."
Slemp continued, "The COVID-19 pandemic shut down our court system, made it difficult for law enforcement officers to gather evidence to disrupt the illegal drug trade, and then left us with a backlog of cases that we are still working diligently to resolve. We are calling this operation COVID Clean-up because we are determined to clean up our community, restore hope, hold offenders accountable, and we won't let COVID stop us from our mission."
Sheriff Kilgore said, "I want to give credit to the law enforcement officers who are working today to keep drugs off our streets. I am proud to be a part of this effort and thankful for the hard work of all the officers involved today. We pray for their safety as they continue this important work, making arrests, and bringing offenders to justice."
Charges from today's operation include drug related crimes, including distribution of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute drugs, prescription fraud, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon while simultaneously possessing controlled substances illegally. Of the charges, almost seventy-five percent involve the distribution or possession of the Schedule II drug methamphetamine.
As of 3:00 p.m., law enforcement officers are in the field continuing their efforts to bring other wanted individuals to justice. A list of those individuals arrested is not available as of the time of this news release.