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Testimony puts Hesseling in middle of fentanyl pill production

In World
April 03, 2024

Apr. 2—LIMA — A Lima woman charged with aiding her ex-boyfriend in the manufacture and distribution of fentanyl and other drugs testified Tuesday in the trial of a man charged with being a vital part of that network.

Nicoya Darby told jurors she saw Ronald Hesseling II, 43, of Lima, operating a fentanyl pill press at a home she shared with Eric Upthegrove on Atlantic Avenue in Lima during the summer of 2021. Darby had moved in with Upthegrove a few months earlier and said Hesseling would come to the house occasionally to “watch games and drink a little.”

Darby told jurors she came home one day and observed Hesseling seated behind a pill press “winding a lever” as part of the process of turning fentanyl power into pills. The woman said she and Upthegrove argued about having the machine in their house and told jurors that after that day she never again saw the pill press at the Atlantic Avenue home.

Hesseling faces 22 felony charges ranging from trafficking in fentanyl to engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity for his alleged role in what prosecutors describe as a major fentanyl distribution ring allegedly fronted by Upthegrove. Prosecutors say Hesseling operated a fentanyl pill press in the basement of a Broadway Street home in Lima.

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 the fall of 2021.

Darby, who testified in Hesseling’s first trial that ended in a mistrial last September, told jurors that prosecutors have offered her no deals or promises in exchange for her testimony. She did concede that she hopes her cooperation will be taken into consideration as her own case plays out.

Day two testimony

The latest jury trial for Hesseling started Monday in Allen County Common Pleas Court. Aaron Montgomery, an investigator with the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force, was the state’s initial witness and returned to the stand to begin Tuesday’s session.

He walked jurors through photos taken by cell phones owned by Upthegrove and Hesseling which showed Hesseling in a room at 756 Broadway St. in Lima. One photo showed the defendant standing near a hand-operated pill press in the basement of that residence. A white powder, which Montgomery identified as fentanyl dust, can be seen on the floor. Hesseling was wearing a face mask covered in white powder in several of the photos.

The home was searched by investigators on Sept. 10, 2021, after investigators observed a white male — later learned to be Hesseling — exiting the home in the company of Upthegrove earlier that day. Investigators found electronic and hand-crank pill presses in the basement of the Broadway Street dwelling, along with thousands of suspected fentanyl pills, suspected fentanyl powder, binding agent used to mix fentanyl pills and other drug paraphernalia at both residences.

Under cross-examination Tuesday from defense attorney Joe Edwards, Montgomery admitted that Hesseling was not a suspect as law enforcement agencies focused on the operation they believed was led by Upthegrove.

“Until you saw him exit the home on Broadway Street with Eric Upthegrove on Sept. 10, you had no idea who Ronald Hesseling was, did you?” Edwards asked the detective.

“That is correct,” Montgomery said.

“And when Ronald Hesseling was arrested later that day following a traffic stop, was that vehicle ever searched? Was there any fentanyl pills, binder or large amounts of cash found?”

“No,” Montgomery answered to both questions.

“And was his residence ever searched?” the defense attorney questioned.

Montgomery said it was not.

Testimony in the trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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