Six people have pleaded guilty to federal drug offenses as part of an alleged ring that cut and packaged drugs in Baltimore -- drugs responsible for the overdose deaths of at least five people. Four of the victims died in Maryland.

Prosecutors say the defendants were among about two dozen suspects participating in an operation that sold the drugs across Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.


Darlene Best, 56, of Baltimore; Grant Harshbarger; Syed Hussain, 25, of Virginia; Ryan Johnson, 26, of Montgomery County; Gary Smith and Ann Waugh-Hixon, 48, of West Virginia all pleaded guilty to various drug offenses in the past month as court records show they’ve all admitted involvement in the alleged ring.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced in April that about two dozen people had been indicted on drug conspiracy and related charges as prosecutors say they dealt heroin, cocaine and fentanyl throughout the region, causing five deaths, including the father of one of the defendants.

According to the indictment, the group cut and packaged the drugs at various residences in Baltimore before selling it throughout the region.

Prosecutors claim the group is responsible for at least four fatal overdoses in Maryland, including the Nov. 20, 2018, death of defendant Donte Bennett’s father. The man died after Bennett, 27, of Baltimore gave him some of the group’s heroin, the indictment claims. A fifth person, named only “D.S.” in the indictment, died at an unknown location Nov. 13, 2018.

While prosecutors claim the group set up headquarters in Baltimore, its clientele stretched throughout the region, as prosecutors say people died or overdosed from its drugs at least 12 times in Frederick County, Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Northern Virginia.

Johnson, Harshbarger, Waugh-Hixon, Smith and Best all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled dangerous substances and face up to 40 years in federal prison.

Johnson, pleaded guilty July 26 after prosecutors said he trafficked more than 100 grams of heroin and that he was found with 6 grams of heroin during a traffic stop on March 5.

Waugh-Hixon, who pleaded guilty Aug. 5, admitted obtaining more than 300 grams of heroin from the drug trafficking group from December 2018 to April 3, 2019.

Harshbarger, who pleaded guilty Aug. 27, admitted he was caught March 11 with 10 grams of fentanyl he’d purchased.

Smith, who also pleaded guilty Aug. 27, admitted obtaining more than 100 grams of heroin and 28 grams of cocaine from the group from November 2018 through April 3, 2019. He was caught with heroin and cocaine during a traffic stop Nov. 4, 2018.

Hussain pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance Aug. 5 and faces up to 20 years in federal prison, court records show.

He admitted in his plea agreement that he would regularly travel to Baltimore to purchase heroin from the group and was arrested Nov. 1, 2018, with 10 grams of heroin on him.

Attorneys for Hussain and Smith declined to comment. Calls for comment for attorneys representing Best, Harshbarger, Waugh-Hixon and Johnson were not returned Sunday.

Eighteen people still face charges in the case. Prosecutors dropped charges against another defendant who died this year.