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Second Hesseling trial begins in Lima courtroom

Apr. 1—LIMA — The second trial for a Lima man accused of operating a fentanyl pill press from the basement of a Broadway Street home began Monday in Allen County Common Pleas Court.

Ronald Hesseling II, 43, faces 22 felony charges for his alleged role in a major fentanyl distribution operation. Prosecutors dismissed 29 additional charges before his first trial got underway last fall. That trial subsequently ended in a mistrial after three jurors asked to be excused from their duties for various reasons.

Co-defendants Eric Upthegrove and Nicoya Darby, Upthegrove's girlfriend who testified against Hesseling in September, face nearly identical charges after law enforcement raided Upthegrove's Atlantic Avenue residence and a nearby home on Broadway Street in the fall of 2021.

Investigators found electronic and hand-crank pill presses in the basement of the Broadway Street home, along with thousands of suspected fentanyl pills, suspected fentanyl powder, binding agent used to mix fentanyl pills and other drug paraphernalia at both residences.

The state's first witness Monday was Aaron Montgomery, an investigator with the West Central Ohio task force. Montgomery told jurors about an intensive investigation effort into Upthegrove's alleged drug activities that also involved officers from the FBI, federal Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Postal Service and the federally-funded Northwest Ohio Safe Streets task force. Montgomery said the investigation ramped up in the summer of 2021 when it was learned that Upthegrove was likely using the U.S. Postal Service to have parcels containing illicit products used in the pill-pressing process delivered to Lima.

Gleaning information gained from a pair of controlled drug buys executed by the task force in August of 2021 "we learned there was a white male pressing pills for Eric Upthegrove," Montgomery told jurors. He said the investigation intensified the following month as local and federal agents continued to monitor Upthegrove's movements between residences at 929 Atlantic Ave. and 765 Broadway St. in Lima.

On Sept. 10, 2021, a federal postal inspector coordinated the delivery of a package to Upthegrove's Atlantic Avenue residence that had been intercepted and identified as suspicious. The package contained three large bags of a binder, which Montgomery said is used to transform powder fentanyl into pill form. Surveillance efforts showed Upthegrove drove the package to the Broadway Street home the following day and took it inside. He exited the home some 15 minutes later in the company of a white male later identified as Hesseling, who got into a car that pulled up outside the home and left the scene.

A search warrant was executed at Upthegrove's Atlantic Avenue home, which Montgomery said yielded a "significant amount of pressed fentanyl pills" along with numerous firearms.

Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Destiny Caldwell told jurors that after a large-scale pill-pressing operation was also found in the basement of the Broadway Street residence "it was learned that this defendant, Ronald Hesseling II, is the one who was pressing those pills."

Defense attorney Joe Edwards, in his opening remarks to jurors, said evidence presented by the state during the trial will prove that Upthegrove was active in the distribution of fentanyl in the Lima area.

"But you will hear no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Hesseling was selling drugs," Edwards said. "You will not be firmly convinced there is evidence sufficient to convict my client."

Testimony in the trial will resume Tuesday morning.