Tennessee Mayor Arrested Days Before Election, Suspected Illegal Drug Making

Eva Fu
By Eva Fu
April 28, 2019US News
Tennessee Mayor Arrested Days Before Election, Suspected Illegal Drug Making
Joel Coe, mayor of Red Boiling Springs, Tenn., was arrested on April 25, 2019, two days before his run for re-election, after allegedly attempting to get a pill press used to make illegal drugs. (City of Red Boiling Springs)

RED BOILING SPRINGS, Tenn.—A mayor in Tennessee who is up for re-election has been arrested after allegedly attempting to get a pill press used to make illegal drugs.

The Macon County Sheriff’s Office on April 25 arrested Red Boiling Springs Mayor Joel Coe two days before he was set to compete against two opponents for the mayor’s seat on Saturday.

The 51-year-old Coe faces multiple charges, including criminal conspiracy and tampering with evidence.

According to the arrest affidavit, Coe was messaging a person about picking up a pill press—a machine that presses powder into tablets. The machine has been used for producing pills containing fentanyl and heroin, the affidavit said. Coe also sent messages about hiding the press in trash bags to bypass a police search.

The police were already waiting for Coe as he arrived at the arranged spot to pick up the pill press. They said Coe deleted the messages from his phone after they confronted him, although they were able to secure the trash bags he discussed in the text.

Coe’s court hearing is scheduled for May 1. A bond of $125,000 was set to secure Coe’s release, according to WCYB. Vice Mayor Joe Hill assured locals, “The business of the city will go on as scheduled.”

A voicemail message with Coe’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

Coe took the office as the mayor of Red Rolling Springs in July 2017. He had previously served on the City Council, the planning commission, and as the vice mayor.

Although it’s not illegal for individuals to own a pill press, Drug Enforcement Administration requires one to file a report for every purchase or sale of the machine. The presence of a pill press is often linked to manufacturing and/or distribution of controlled substances.

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Joel Coe, mayor of Red Boiling Springs, Tenn. (City of Red Boiling Springs)

More than 71,500 people died of a drug overdose in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 68 percent of the deaths are linked to opioids such as fentanyl, the most common drug (.pdf) involved in overdose deaths.

Tennessee was one of the top three states with the highest opioid prescribing rates. The state also has a rate of 19.3 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is higher than the national average of 14.6.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has launched a number of initiatives to address opioid addiction in the United States, including signing an opioid bill in October 2018, which includes plans to bring in $6 billion in funding over two years, and most recently, a faith-based initiative.

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President Donald Trump signed a bill at the White House dedicating more resources to fight the opioid crisis, on Oct. 24, 2018. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In the most recent opioid bust, Tennessee officials charged over 30 medical professionals for illegally prescribing millions of painkillers.

A total of 60 people, including 53 medical professionals who wrote 350,000 prescriptions and distributed as many as 32 million pills, were charged by federal prosecutors on Wednesday. They said most of those charged were from the five states targeted by the strike force: Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

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Bags of heroin displayed at the office of the New York attorney general after a major drug bust, on Sept. 23, 2016, in New York City. The police seized 33 kilograms of heroin and 2 kilograms of fentanyl. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney Don Cochran said that the opioid death numbers are not a good indicator of the problem. “A lot of people who go on to heroin and even more dangerous things like fentanyl start with prescription opioids,” Cochran said during the press conference on April 22.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fentanyl deaths in the United States skyrocketed by over 1,000 percent over a period of six years. The largest rate increases were among younger adults aged 15 to 34.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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