17-year-old accused of heading 'drug empire' in Enochville
By Nathan Hardin
CONCORD — Deputies arrested a 17-year-old believed to be the head of a “drug empire” in the Enochville community Thursday.
The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office caught Brandon Rumple, formerly of Carter Street in Enochville, during a joint investigation with Concord Police into Rumple’s involvement in the heroin industry.
Deputies had been investigating Rumple before he moved to a Concord apartment. Concord Police obtained a search warrant for the apartment Thursday.
Police and Rowan deputies raided the apartment, near Concord Mills and found 211 grams, or 7.5 ounces, of “black tar” heroin.
Authorities also found $5,000 in cash and a loaded handgun, an arrest report said.
Officers charged Rumple with felony trafficking in heroin. He was given a $300,000 bond.
Deputies also took 21-year-old Joshua Branham, of 709 Chris Drive, into custody.
Branham is believed to have been the “distribution man,” officers said, in the drug ring.
Branham was charged with felony trafficking in heroin and was also given a $300,000 bond.
The arrests followed an initial investigation of 42-year-old Billy Barnhardt, of Spring Garden Avenue.
Detectives raided Barnhardt’s house on Tuesday, according to search warrants obtained by the Post.
Barnhardt’s wife, Lesa Barnhardt, and his father, Billy Barnhardt Sr., were at the home.
Despite their telling officers Barnhardt Jr. wasn’t home, the search warrant said he was “discovered to be hiding inside his bedroom closet in an attempt to resist or avoid arrest.”
Investigators found 1.9 grams of “black tar” heroin and $935 in cash.
They also found scales, a razor blade, marijuana seeds, rolling papers and “spiral bound notebooks with drug ledgers from a night stand in bedroom,” warrants said.
Barnhardt Jr. was charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was given a $5,000 bond.
Lesa Barnhardt, 42, was also charged with felony possession with intent to manufacture, sell and deliver heroin. She was given a $10,000 bond.
Barnhardt Sr. was charged with felony maintaining a dwelling for keeping or storing narcotics.
Heroin has been growing at a rapid rate between the China Grove and Enochville areas in the southern part of Rowan County over the last year, deputies said.
Rowan County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy David Ramsey said investigators had been looking into Rumple’s involvement in the drug industry prior to his moving to Concord.
“We’ve been receiving complaints for months,” Ramsey said, “but we’ve been working on it.”
Authorities believe the Sheriff’s Office Aggressive Criminal Enforcement (ACE) team is one of the reasons Rumple left the Enochville area.
“He moved to Concord because of the attention he was drawing,” Ramsey said.
Officers focused efforts on the Carter Street and Spring Garden areas of Enochville.
The 17-year-old is a believed figurehead in the heroin trade in Enochville and authorities believe he was using Branham as a distributor.
Rowan-Salisbury School System Spokeswoman Rita Foil said Rumple left South Rowan High School in 2008.
He then briefly attending Henderson High School before dropping out in Oct. 2010.
Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said Thursday’s heroin seizure was “a fairly nice size.”
The 211 grams breaks down to about 2,000 total dosage units that could have been used, Auten said.
“A lot of folks were being affected by him on a daily basis,” Auten said. “The scary part is he’s only 17.”
No evidence points to heroin trends among teenagers, Auten said, but Rumple’s age has to be factored.
“You can probably assume it was getting into the hands of teenagers, and that’s scary,” he said.
Auten compared a heroin bust to a methamphetamine lab in terms of the danger of MRSA and hepatitis.
“It’s not the same as a meth lab, but it’s just as dangerous, with the things that can affect people’s health,” Auten said.
The second-year sheriff said collaborating with Concord Police helped put the evidence together.
Rumple, a convicted felon, has a history of heroin distribution, according to the Department of Corrections’ database.
Rumple was convicted in January for felony delivering and selling heroin, felony selling a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and felony possession with intent to manufacture, sell and deliver a controlled substance.
He was sentenced to 30 months of probation.
Thursday’s bust was the second largest heroin seizure in the last year for Rowan deputies.
Last August, detectives seized one kilogram, 1,000 grams, of heroin and two kilograms of cocaine in one of the largest drug busts in Rowan County history.
Investigators said they are continuing to investigate and more charges could be filed.
“There will be some happy people in Enochville,” Ramsey said.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.
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