Crime

Johnson County drug house was ‘hiding in plain sight.’ Feds seek to take possession

Dennis McLallen and Pamela Gaddy-McLallen were an older couple — “normal people” — who liked to take care of their home and didn’t cause trouble, their Overland Park neighbors had thought.

Then, federal agents arrested the couple three years ago for storing and trafficking black tar heroin, along with 24 people who had connections to a major Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. The discovery that their neighbors led a drug ring left neighbors in the Wingates subdivision reeling in disbelief.

Now that the couple have been convicted, the Department of Justice is attempting to seize their two-story house in the 8800 block of Antioch Road, saying it was procured with proceeds from illegal drug activity. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri filed a forfeiture action on Wednesday.

The house is in Gaddy-McLallen’s name. Because she died before she could be sentenced, the forfeiture claim that began during her case was never completed.

Unlike other houses on the block adorned with flower pots and cheerful yard ornaments, the house looks abandoned. The feds have maintained the home ever since the couple were denied release from detention two years ago before their trial.

Shingles dangle from the roof, and a few sit in the driveway. Bushes have grown over into the walkway, and grocery store fliers hang out of the open mailbox. A sign taped to the padlocked door warns to not use the plumbing or electricity.

“At least, they mow the lawn,” said Susan Chadwick, who lives next door. “I can’t complain about that.”

The house is on a busy but quiet street, about a block away from a Seventh-day Adventist church. Some neighbors did not want to talk to The Star for fear of attracting the attention of the cartel. Others wanted to put the episode behind them.

“They were hiding in plain sight,” Chadwick said.

Most of the people who live on her block are older or retired and know one another, Chadwick, 68, said. McLallen was 64 when charged, and his wife was 62.

“The neighbors around here had no clue,” said Chadwick, who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years.

To her, Gaddy-McLallen was frail and in poor health. McLallen was a “yard Nazi” who went to lengths to make sure his lawn was fertilized and trimmed. Both suffered from chronic pain, she said.

She said she often saw cars come and go from the home.

“I just thought they had a lot of family,” Chadwick said.

Sitting in her beach-themed sunroom that overlooked the McLallens’ backyard, Chadwick recalled when her neighborhood found out the McLallens’ secret. In September 2016, Chadwick woke up to a loud bang and saw a long line of black cars going down the street and an armored vehicle in the McLallens’ driveway.

“I didn’t know what a flash bomb was until that day,” Chadwick said.

When she went to investigate, agents or police officers — she couldn’t recall which — yelled at her to get back in her home. She later offered them beverages and the use of her restroom, which she said they politely declined.

The neighborhood didn’t find out about what was in the house until they later read it in the newspaper: 453 grams of heroin, about $163,000 in cash, scales and calibration weights, three telephones and a notebook that served as a drug ledger. Agents found a loaded pistol in McLallen’s night stand.

Court records, which were unsealed once all 26 people in the ring were charged, documented the extent of the investigation and criminal activity. As of last week, 16 of the 26 people charged in the case have been sentenced, according to The Associated Press.

The investigation into the couple, conducted by the FBI and Kansas City police, began in October 2015 with a tip from an informant and continued for a year. The drug operation had been active since 2011.

Authorities used an informant to buy heroin, and also used phone taps and surveillance. They watched the two leave their home and meet with a man — who was later identified and convicted — in Overland Park business parking lots and Kansas City homes.

In the home, the couple repackaged heroin into grams and ounces for sale to Kansas City-area dealers and customers.

McLallen admitted that other than the Mexican dealers, he and his wife were top supervisors in the ring. He was responsible for the distribution of more than 10 kilograms of heroin. The average sale price of an ounce was $1,700. His sentence was more heavily weighted because he allegedly left messages threatening to kill two people involved in the case.

Both McLallen and Gaddy-McLallen pleaded guilty to one count of intent to distribute a kilogram of heroin, one count of money laundering and a count of possessing firearms to further drug trafficking.

McLallen is serving 15 years in prison without parole and could not be reached for comment. His appeal of his sentence, in which he alleged inefficient assistance of counsel, was dismissed.

Gaddy-McLallen died while she awaited sentencing. Though she suffered from a degenerative disc disease and hypertension, a letter written by her husband entered in the court record indicated she died from colon cancer.

The neighbors still have so many questions: How did the couple first get involved with the cartel? How did they keep this secret for so long?

Court records indicate that neither had criminal records. A letter written by McLallen’s sister-in-law entered in the court record alleges their chronic pain had led to opioid addiction.

“All we want answered is just: What the heck?” Chadwick said. “What the heck?”

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.
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