A 31-year-old Ellicott City man who police say was a key supplier ina Columbia cocaine ring pleaded guilty Monday in Circuit Court to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Timothy Joseph O'Neill of the 8500 block of Spring Harvest Way was part of a local drug distribution network that did $15,000 in business a month, selling cocaine primarily in the Wilde Lake Village Center and the Lakefront area, county police said.

He faces up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing Nov. 26 before Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr.

Police say the case is unusual because O'Neill and others involved in the drug network are affluent, longtime county residents. O'Neill is a vice president in his family business, Georgia Steel and Chemical of Columbia, Sgt. Joe Johnson said.

"We're talking about a rich person who's now been caught for dealing drugs," Johnson said. "When you consider how much cocaine he wasresponsible for putting on the streets of Howard County, hopefully he should have to pay for something like that."

O'Neill's February arrest was the result of an 18-month undercover police investigation by Detective Jeffrey Ferra into cocaine distribution in Howard County. In addition to identifying lower-level dealers, police were successful in targeting suppliers.

"We were able to go from the lower-level user all the way up to the kilogram dealer," Johnson said. "Usually at that level, they're living in Baltimore, Washington or Philadelphia.

"In this case, it was confined to a lot of people who grew upin Howard County and did drugs together," he said.

The investigation also led to the arrests of Rick Barton of Jessup, who, police said, allegedly supplied O'Neill with cocaine, and Bryan Jackson of Columbia, who bought cocaine from O'Neill to sell to street users.

Jackson pleaded guilty to distribution charges and is awaiting sentencing. Barton's trial is scheduled for next month.

To make their case,police tracked marked money as it made its way through the distribution organization, Johnson said.

The investigation revealed that 12to 15 street users regularly bought about $350 worth of cocaine fromJackson. Police said he obtained the drugs from O'Neill, who distributed 1/4 pound of cocaine, worth about $6,000, every two weeks. Barton allegedly made trips to Florida to buy kilograms of cocaine for $25,000 to supply O'Neill, Johnson said.

Selling about 6 pounds of cocaine every month, the drug network made $10,000 to $15,000 in monthly profits, he said.

Throughout the investigation, undercover detectives saw O'Neill and Jackson meet at various locations throughout Columbia to exchange cocaine or money, according to court records.

During a search of O'Neill's house in February, police found cocaine and drug paraphernalia, including five large plastic bags containing cocaine residue, lines of cocaine on a mirror in the living room and cocaine residue in O'Neill's Nissan Maxima automobile, court records said.

A search of Barton's house revealed a large amount of cocaine in a plastic bag, drug paraphernalia and more than $15,000 in cash hidden in the kitchen, police said.

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