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Pastor faces drug-dealing charge

A Milwaukee man who worked as a pastor and a youth counselor until last summer has been charged in federal court with dealing heroin, according to court documents.

Smoke Crack & Go to ChurchImage by ficholasnorneris via Flickr

John West, 59, and nine others, including his son, were indicted with conspiracy to sell heroin from summer 2009 until March. A mother and her adult son are among those charged.

Court documents describe West as the leader of the group that often went to Chicago to buy heroin, developed an "innovative way of cutting" the drug to maximize profits, hired armed enforcers to protect the operation and personally carried a gun.

West was ordained in 1969 and most recently was a pastor with his wife, Linda Hughes, at the Prayer House of Deliverance, according to his attorney and court documents.

Hughes said she and West split more than a year ago and since then she has been the only pastor at the church, near N. 9th and W. Center streets. Authorities went to the church looking for West, after they received a tip he was hiding there, Hughes said.

West was not in the church and he turned himself in a short time later, according to his attorney.

Hughes said she didn't know anything about West's alleged drug-dealing operation.

"I had nothing to do with that mess," Hughes said.

Jonathan Hughes, 28, son of Linda Hughes and John West, also is charged. Linda Hughes said her son got caught up in the operation but is innocent.

But according to court documents, Jonathan Hughes and his father were partners in the heroin-dealing operation.

West's attorney, Matt Ricci, said his client told him he worked as a youth counselor until June, but Ricci was not certain where. The church where West was pastor formerly was at 3828 W. Burleigh Ave., according to court documents.

West has cancer, diabetes and gout, Ricci said. He is being held in the Waukesha County jail after a federal magistrate judge refused to set a bail for him.

West was convicted twice in state court of drug dealing, in 1997 and 1998, according to online court records.

Ricci said federal documents portray West as the drug operation's leader, but the facts may not support that conclusion. West has pleaded not guilty.

Besides West and Hughes, others indicted earlier this month include William "Lucky" Hunter, 56; David "Mouse" Haywood, 39; Antwon "Bree" Pierce, 36; Latrice Griffin, no age provided; Joseph Miller, 34; Karen Hwilka, 53; Cory Panzer, 38; and Phillip Klapka, no age provided.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration along with the West Allis Police Department and other law enforcement agencies investigated the case.

According to court documents:

For at least a year, West regularly traveled to Chicago, where he once lived and referred to as "the store," to buy 150 grams of heroin at a time - worth more than $20,000 on the street. One person said West bought heroin every day in Chicago.

West's son, Jonathan Hughes, helped in the distribution of heroin and provided security. Another defendant, Haywood, mixed heroin and also worked security. West and the others sold drugs from a house in the 4200 block of W. Concordia Ave.

West carried a .38-caliber handgun when meeting buyers. Co-defendant Miller said he saw as many as five guns in the house at once. Besides heroin, Miller said, he saw large volumes of crack cocaine and marijuana for sale at the house.

Miller said he believes "West has at least 40 customers that buy drugs from him and West is willing to sell drugs at any time of the day or night."

Miller was a regular West customer - until he fell a couple of thousand dollars behind in payments. Then Miller's mother, Hwilka, started dealing with West directly. She started selling heroin from her home in the 3600 block of S. 58th St.

West called her "mama."

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