Former Ashtabula County man who failed to report to
prison is found in W.Va
A year-long manhunt for a former Ashtabula County resident ended Sunday in
West Virginia with the arrest of Thomas MacWilliams, according to the
Trumbull, Ashtabula and Geauga Law Enforcement Task Force. MacWilliams
failed to report for a four-year prison sentence last summer after pleading
guilty to reduced charges of complicity to trafficking and complicity to
possession of marijuana following a plea agreement, according a prepared
statement from TAG.
TAG officials, in conjunction with the West Virginia State Police Bureau of
Narcotics, nabbed MacWilliams and girlfriend Darlene Wollschleger in Gillmer
County, W.Va., TAG Commander Sgt. Jeff Orr said Wednesday. "It's a
relief that we got him," Orr said. "It's sad we had to put forth such an
effort to bring him to justice." MacWilliams, who formerly resided at
5179 Day Road, New Lyme Township, was first arrested with five others in the
summer of 2004 after an investigation by TAG and the Cleveland office of the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency followed 200 pounds of marijuana from San Diego
to Ashtabula County, according to an archived News-Herald story.
Authorities seized more than 900 pounds of marijuana, $76,400 in cash, motor
vehicles, motorcycles and a car wash as part of that investigation, TAG's
statement said. After pleading guilty to the aforementioned charges,
MacWilliams was given 30 days to report for his sentence, but fled, TAG
officials say. He was indicted by the Ashtabula County grand jury on an
escape charge, according to TAG. "At that time, Ashtabula County was
facing substantial financial problems," Orr said. "We should have taken his
case to trial, but they were understaffed and under funded, so our hand was
forced to take the plea agreement."
TAG went almost a year without good intelligence as to MacWilliams' location
before receiving information that he was hiding in the woods of West
Virginia with two trailers, according to the prepared statement.
Aerial surveillance photos of the area were obtained Friday, and TAG
officials were in West Virginia on Sunday. Investigators from both
states, dressed in full camouflage attire and equipment, hiked to the
location and participated in an hour of surveillance, according to TAG.
Both subjects were taken into custody without incident on a dirt road
between the trailers, TAG's statement said. More than 270 marijuana plants
that were growing in one of the trailers were seized, as were a
sport-utility vehicle, grow lights, fertilizer, electrical equipment,
miscellaneous paperwork and several thousand dollars, TAG said in a
statement. "MacWilliams and his girlfriend Darlene Wollschleger had an
elaborate grow operation, and it is suspected that the processed marijuana
would have made its way to Ashtabula County," TAG's statement said.
Orr said Wednesday that each marijuana plant is valued at nearly $1,000,
leaving authorities with about $270,000 worth of seized marijuana.
Both MacWilliams and Wollschleger are in custody of West Virginia
authorities, according to TAG. MacWilliams has an extradition hearing set
for the week of May 22, Orr said. Upon returning to Ashtabula County,
MacWilliams will be sent directly to the Lorain Correctional Facility to
begin serving his sentence, Orr said. MacWilliams and Wollschleger are both
facing marijuana cultivation charges in West Virginia, according to TAG.
Federal charges also will be brought against MacWilliams, Orr said.
TAG is pursuing charges on separate individuals based of their aiding and
abetting MacWilliams during his year on the run, the task force's statement
"The success of this operation is a tribute to those citizens and law
enforcement officers who are interested in improving the quality of life in
their neighborhoods by removing drugs and those that sell them and
manufacture them from our communities," TAG said in its statement.