At the Pocahontas County Association of Retired School Employees monthly meeting October 30, Sheriff David Jonese spoke to the group about different types of scams and the drug issues in the county.
There are several types of scams that county residents have fallen prey to over the years.
“According to the FBI, it’s about forty-billion dollars a year,” Jonese said. “What that entails in most cases is you receive these phone calls from someone wanting to talk to you and offer you something. What we’re finding here is, it’s not that they’re offering you something that’s of value to you. What we’re finding is you’re getting a lot of high pressured calls.”
The calls usually begin pleasant with the caller asking basic information, until they ask for bank routing numbers or a credit card number.
“They’ll try to be very nice and positive about it and if you don’t go along with it or if you continue to butt heads, then they start getting more aggressive and more angry. In at least two cases I’ve dealt with here, they’ve actually threatened the individuals they call.”
Consumer fraud is another phone scam in which the caller tries to get the person to “invest” in something profitable.
“Who are the primary victims? Older people,” Jonese said. “The reason being is they found, there’s a couple reasons why they target the older population and retired population. One is because in most cases, you’re very polite, you’re very nice and you’re not going to hang up on them. The other thing they like to target the population of ages fifty and above is because you’ve worked your whole lives, most of you have a house, most of you have retirement plans, most of you have family and most of you are going to be home during the day.”
The older generation is targeted also because the scammers believe they are concerned about their finan“They probably think that you have families and you have grandchildren. With the economy and the world as it is, you probably would like to do something for them to better prepare so they use that and prey on you for that, as well,” Jonese said.
One type of phone scam that Jonese has seen an increase in is 800 and 900 toll number calls. These are usually international calls and the callers are merely trying to keep you on the line.
“Every minute you’re on that phone, they’re charging you three, four hundred dollars a minute,” Jonese said. “The worst one I heard about was in West Virginia, it wasn’t in this county. Some had a twenty-five hundred dollar phone bill and when they called the FBI, there wasn’t a thing they could do because international phone has nothing to do with AT&T or Verizon, and there’s nothing you can do. Do not talk to anybody on these 818, 800 series of numbers or 900 toll call numbers. If you didn’t call them, don’t talk to them.”
Jonese suggested one way to stop the phone calls which would also inform him that the calls are coming to county residents.
“When they ask you for your information and you don’t think it’s a legitimate call, tell them that you want them to call your son because he is the one in charge of your finances and then give them my number at the office,” he said. “We’ll take care of them. We’ve done that before. They’ll call the office and I’ll explain to them who I am and for some reason, they stop calling this area.”
Another type of scam is investment scams. Jonese said the best way to avoid these, and all scams, is to hang up the phone and don’t give any information to the caller.
“Gold, silver, bonds, time shares – all those types of things are scams to try to get you to sign up to something to let them have access to your money,” he said. “If you want to do that, you need to call a reputable dealer. Do not let anyone call you. Again, if you don’t call somebody, don’t give them any information.”
Not all scams are through the phone. Sometimes, they come right to your front door.
“Some of the scams we have are closer to here,” Jonese said. “You have these guys that come through from South Carolina and down south. They travel all around the country, coming up and saying, ‘looking at your roof, you need some roof repair. We’ll give you a really good deal on this.’ That’s a scam.”
Others will offer driveway resurfacing, but will leave you with a base coat and nothing else.
“Always use a contractor you know,” Jonese said. “Don’t ever fall for these people coming through. That’s how they make their living. A couple years ago, there was a program on 20/20 about the gypsies that come out of South Carolina. They live in these huge mansions. They load up every Spring and drive all through the eastern United States scamming people out of millions and millions of dollars.”
Although it is something from the 50s and 60s, Jonese said there are still door-to-door vacuum salesmen who sell you a lemon and try to burglarize your home.
“They come through and they’ve got this great vacuum,” he said. “It will suck dirt out of your neighbors carpet it’s so good. It starts out, it’s a really good deal. Before you know it, you owe three thousand dollars for your vacuum cleaner. Make sure it’s something you really want and if you do, go look for it. Don’t let it come to you.”
Jonese said the Sheriff’s Department busted a vacuum salesman group in the county last year. They work in pairs and try to split up as you are distracted by the sales pitch.
“One would come in and start preaching about this wondrous vacuum cleaner. It’ll cook your lunch, it’ll bathe your children, it’ll clean your carpet,” Jonese said. “While they’re doing that, the other will say ‘can I use your restroom?’ When they were done, hopefully they sold you a vacuum cleaner and robbed you, but if they don’t sell you a vacuum cleaner, they’ve gone through your medicine cabinet and anywhere else in your house while you were dealing with the other person keeping you busy.
“Maintain control of your own house,” he continued. “Don’t let them in. You can’t be nice all the time. Just like being polite on the phone.”
Another scam Jonese caught in the county involved a reputable company with shady salesmen.
“Capital Meats, they drive around and deliver meat,” he said. “The company is a reputable company, however, I’ve dealt with them a couple of times in the last month over some of the processes that their salesmen are using. A lot of high pressure sales. They’ll find someone who they see they can work and they will go into that home and they will pressure that individual, and convince them ‘if you buy this freezer, we’re going to sell you all this meat at a discount.’ Well, your freezer costs you about twenty-five hundred dollars. So if you’re not in the market for it, then you don’t buy it off of them.”
Jonese said he contacted the company and explained what was happening in the county. The company picked up the items sold by the scammers and reimbursed the individuals that were targeted.
Switching gears, Jonese explained the county’s war on drugs and talked about the biggest issues in the county today.
“In 2009, Pocahontas County ranked number two nationally per capita, based on population, for illegal use of prescription drugs,” he said. “Pretty hard to believe. We averaged five to seven drug overdoses a week. Those were not fatalities, those were just reported drug overdoses where somebody went to the hospital. 2013, where are we? Since 2009, we’ve had more than three-hundred-fifty drug arrests in the county, both local and those coming in the county bringing drugs from outside. We are no longer even in the top ten of counties in West Virginia for illegal drug use.”
Although the statistics are slowly changing to the county’s favor, there is still a large presence of drugs, whether they are already made or manufactured here.
“The drug of choice now has changed,” Jonese said. “It actually started a year ago April. It was our very first meth lab in the county. We had our first guy come into the county teaching people how to make meth. Meth has become a pretty big choice of drug for our users in this area.”
Along with meth, which is made and used in the county, heroin is starting to make its way into the county.
“Why would they want heroin?” Jonese asked. “Well, heroin gives you a better high than the pills did and it’s cheaper. Heroin is so cheap now that in places like Charleston and Huntington, your heroin dealers are walking up and down the streets, giving out free stamps – what they call stamps. They’re little tiny squares about half of a postage stamp. The heroin is inlaid on that. They will pass those out free, hoping then they have just generated future business.”
Jonese said a stamp of heroin costs about $10 a hit and $40 to $50 for a bag of stamps. Joining heroin as a new drug of choice are the drugs used for detox.
“The number two drug state-wide is a drug that is being given by doctors to addicts trying to kick the habit,” he explained. “It’s called Subutec or Suboxone. This is supposed to be something that is supposed to help you get through the rough times and help settle your urges. It’s called a bridging drug. What we’ve found is that instead of helping the problem, it has now become part of the problem.”
Bath salts – so called because it looks like and is packaged to mimic aromatherapy salts used in the bath – and K2, a synthetic marijuana are on the Sheriff’s Department radar, as well.
“Those are the ones that we are primarily seeing becoming popular now,” Jonese said. “There is another drug that came from Eastern Europe this past year. So far the closest I found it is in Staunton, Virginia. It’s called Krokodil. It’s another synthetic drug. It’s a synthetic heroin much like bath salts but it’s much worse.
“The high is many times stronger than a meth/heroin combination or meth/cocaine combination,” he continued. “It’s cheap, but it’s very, very dangerous. It’s usually done by injection. It turns the meat and stuff around the vein into a jelly, like the fat off your roast when you cook it. It turns your skin into big scales like crocodiles, so that’s where they got the name.”
Krokodil is also known as the Zombie Drug because users resemble zombies with flesh falling off their bodies.
One of the ways the Sheriff’s Department is trying to stop the influx of drugs into the county is by helping users with severe addictions get healthy and find a way to turn their lives around. Two programs in particular – Day Report and Drug Court – are giving addicts a second chance at a good life.
“I think Day Report is a great alternative [to prison],” Jonese said. “I think it saves you a lot of money. They have to pay for their own drug screenings. They have to pay to be a member of the program, just like Home Confinement. It doesn’t clog up the system. In the case of someone that is a drug addict, sending them to prison is not going to help them.”
Jonese admits that he himself used to think it was easier to just put all offenders in prisons and let them do their time, but he has changed his outlook.
“I was all about ‘build more prisons, throw them in there and quit feeding them as much,’ but the thing is, an addict is an addict,” Jonese said. “He’s going to do anything to serve the habit. The dealer is the problem. That’s what we need to bury under the jail. What my real belief is now is what’s called Drug Court. For about two years, I was not a big fan. I thought it was too much of the ‘hug a thug’ theory. That’s not what it is.”
Drug Court is an alternative to prison time and when an offender completes the program, he or she is clean and has skills they can take into the workforce.
“There is a lot, a lot, a lot of success with that program,” Jonese said. “It’s about an eighteen month program. They’re going to mess up. They’re going to make mistakes, but they have to start over. I have actually seen the changes take place, even though they don’t know they’re taking place. It’s really amazing to watch them do that.”
Not all drug offenders are eligible for Drug Court. Jonese said they cannot have any violent crimes on their record and they have to be serious addicts. If they use drugs occasionally or only once or twice a year and were caught, they cannot do Drug Court.
“You have three phases,” he explained. “They start with education. They have to go to classes. They have to go to all these therapy trainings. They have to do community service. They have to meet certain goals.”
The part of the program that needs improvement is the preparation for the workforce, Jonese said.
“They can have jobs, we want them to have jobs,” he said. “That’s the one thing we’re missing here. What we’re doing as part of Drug Court and Community Corrections is, we want to take that ARC building and develop different programs in there. The one thing I found, if you are a convicted felon, I tell you ‘Okay, you got off the drugs, you’ve gone to all the classes, now go get a job.’ Where are you going to get a job at? You’re not going to, so what do you do? You’re in the same environment you were in before and you have no options.”
With the programs at the ARC, Jonese said the Drug Court participants will be in a safe environment where they will learn skills that will last them a lifetime.
“What we want to do is break that ARC building down into three or four different sections and one section we want to start the hydroponic gardening where we want to grow tomatoes and that sort of stuff,” he said. “We also have people who are organic gardeners who have offered to come and help us teach this. We want to raise fish in there as part of this too and you market that commercially, what does that do? Now these people are paying for their own program so it no longer takes taxpayer money.”
Other classes Jonese hopes to include are welding and solar energy production.
What makes the program special is the incentive to have a clean or nearly clean slate by the end.
“The one thing about the program is, if you get convicted, before you’re sentenced, if you go into Drug Court and you successfully complete it, your felony will either be dropped to a misdemeanor or it will go away,” he said. “That’s an incentive for you. When you do get done, you have a skill, you have some opportunities to do something good.”
Jonese encouraged the group to call the Sheriff’s Department if they have any questions or concerns about any of the issues he talked about during the meeting.
The Sheriff’s Department may be contacted at 304-799-4445.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org