News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 27, 2013

Hammond caught running another drug ring by phone from jail

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Two years after being convicted of the same crime, former Terre Haute resident Wesley “FeFe” Hammond is being accused of directing a major illegal drug ring by cell phone from inside his Indiana prison cell.

In 2011, Hammond was sentenced to life in prison without parole on federal charges related to running a large, Terre Haute drug ring from inside his prison cell at the New Castle Correctional Institution.

Now, federal prosecutors are accusing Hammond, 42, of orchestrating a major Terre Haute methamphetamine and cocaine ring from his prison cell – now in the state prison in Michigan City.

“I am reminded… of the old adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same,” said U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, who announced the indictment of Hammond and 14 other suspects Tuesday at a news conference at the Terre Haute police headquarters on Wabash Avenue.

According to the latest indictment, Hammond “was at it again,” Hogsett said.

Of the 15 people arrested Tuesday, most are listed as Terre Haute residents. One suspect, Ivan Van Buren, 48, lives in California where he was arrested about 3 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. Van Buren is accused of supplying the drugs for the operation, Hogsett said.

Tuesday’s arrests resulted from an eight-month investigation by the FBI, the Indiana State Police, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, the Terre Haute Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the Vigo County Drug Task Force, officials said.

In a 13-page indictment, allegations state that Hammond spoke on his cell phone with a number of people about buying, selling and moving drugs in the Wabash Valley. Details of the day-to-day operations of the drug ring emerge in the allegations. For example, there were cell phone conversations concerning people who owed money to the drug ring or who needed larger supplies of methamphetamine for eager customers. In one conversation, a supplier said customers were concerned the methamphetamine they were purchasing had been “cut” to make a smaller amount appear larger.

If found guilty, the 15 suspects in the case face possible prison sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to life in prison without parole, officials said.

Local police officials used Tuesday’s news conference to warn would-be drug dealers to avoid doing business in the Wabash Valley.

“If you’re going to do drugs in our community, we’re going to come after you,” said Police Chief John Plasse. “It’s a collective effort.”

Sheriff Greg Ewing sounded a similar warning: “We’re coming after you. We’re coming after you,” he said.

Hogsett said it is frustrating that Hammond, “a name quite familiar to the people of Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley,” had allegedly been able to organize a drug operation using cell phones from his prison cell once again. He said Indiana Department of Corrections officials cooperated in the investigation and were integral to the arrests made Tuesday.

“Both, in the first case against Mr. Hammond, and now this second case… he seems to just be bringing us more and more defendants to identify, to investigate, to charge and then, hopefully, to convict,” Hogsett said. “If your cell phone rings and it happens to be Wesley Hammond on the other end, don’t answer it.”

Hammond has been moved from his cell to another location where he will be unable to obtain cell phones, Hogsett told reporters. Authorities allegedly found two contraband cell phones in his possession Tuesday, Hogsett said.

Some of those arrested Tuesday are relatives of Hammond’s, officials said. Many of the suspects in the case are scheduled to appear this morning in federal court in Terre Haute.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com