EL man receives 6-plus years on 23 ‘Big Oak’-related charges

LISBON — One of the mid-level participants in the drug activity indicted under the Operation Big Oak last fall pleaded guilty to a long list of charges — including to recklessly causing the involvement of an overdose of an East Liverpool officer — during two hearings on Monday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Justin L. Buckel, 25, Avondale Street, East Liverpool, requested immediate sentencing in both cases and ended up with 30 months in one courtroom and four years in the other with the cases to be served consecutive to each other.

Before Judge Scott Washam, Buckel pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and assault.

Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Weikart said Buckel was attempting to conceal fentanyl during a traffic stop at Lisbon Street and West Eight Street in East Liverpool on May 12, 2017. Buckel tried to conceal the fentanyl by emptying it onto the floor of the vehicle and rubbing it into the carpet.

Those actions endangered several East Liverpool police officers and led to the injuries to East Liverpool Patrolman Christopher Green, who accidentally came in contact with the substance.

At the time, Green had brushed something off his shirt with his hand and within minutes had to be revived by multiple doses of Narcan and was hospitalized. He still required medical care a few weeks later, according to Weikart.

Weikart pointed out while Buckel has only a misdemeanor record, the seriousness of the offense requires a higher sentence.

As he sentenced Buckel to 30 months in prison, Washam said it was his understanding that when Buckel learned about Green’s condition he reacted “rather cavalierly” and seemed not to really care what happened to Green.

Across the hallway in Common Pleas Court, Buckel next appeared before Judge C. Ashley Pike, where he pleaded guilty to 21 counts for his involvement in a large drug trafficking ring.

Ohio Attorney General Special Assistant Prosecutor Margaret Tomaro said Buckel was serving as a “middleman” running drugs from Cleveland for Anthony and Allen Jackson. Tomaro said Buckel was both selling the drugs to the Jackson’s customers and using large amounts of fentanyl himself.

Included in the charges was a first-degree felony engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity for his part in the drug trafficking ring. Additionally, one of the cocaine trafficking charges was also a first-degree felony, which states between March 3 and May 8, 2017, Buckel sold 36.39 grams of crack cocaine.

Additionally, Buckel pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony aggravated trafficking in drugs charge, which included a forfeiture specification claiming Buckel had $3,671 derived for drug-related crimes, specifically selling 59.26 grams of fentanyl which is nearly three times the bulk amount of the drug.

The remaining charges Buckel pleaded guilty to were two additional counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs, two counts of trafficking in heroin, another count of trafficking in cocaine and 13 counts of aggravated possession of drugs.

Buckel had separate defense attorneys for the two cases. In the second case, defense attorney James Wise called Buckel a user but a young man who he believes if he gets help can become a productive member of society. He thanked Pike following the plea agreement worked out between Tomaro and himself asking for a four-year sentence in this case.

As for Buckel, he told both judges he did not have much to say, except he wanted them to consider his drug problem.

“You are a young man and you have a long way to go in this life,” Pike said before sentencing him to four years, adding, “You need to change your habits big time.”

Buckel has credit for 241 days served in the Operation Big Oak case. Credit is still being determined for the fentanyl case involving the overdose of Green