More questions than answers remained this week after federal investigators and state police broke up a sophisticated cross-country methamphetamine distribution ring that they said involved a Bridgeport priest, a Manchester man and three other individuals that, according to affidavits in the case, often times seemed more bizarre and outlandish than an episode of the popular TV series "Breaking Bad."
According to a statement released Wednesday by United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut David B. Fein, Drug Enforcement Administration agents and members of the Connecticut State Police’s Statewide Narcotics Task Force joined forces to bust up a methamphetamine distribution ring spearheaded by Bridgeport priest Kevin Wallin, 61, that saw "bulk quantities" of the drug, more commonly known as crystal meth, shipped from California to Wallin's Waterbury apartment, then re-packed "in various quantities and in color-coded Ziploc bags" and sold locally to users and other dealers.
Based on a sworn affidavit by DEA Agent Jay Salvatore, Wallin, who apparently was addicted to the drug himself, was pulling in thousands of dollars a week in sales, used multiple cell phones and accomplices to avoid detection, and sought to purchase an "adult specialty and video store" in North Haven to funnel the profits through and launder the money.
Fein said the investigation, which lasted months, included the use of court-authorized wiretaps, physically surveillance, informants and undercover officers who made controlled purchases of the drug and inserted themselves into Wallin's circle.
“This case is a model for cooperation between federal and state law enforcement agencies,” Fein said. “The hard work of the DEA and the Connecticut State Police in this case resulted in the dismantling of what we allege was a significant methamphetamine distribution organization that spanned from California to Connecticut.”
Wallin was arrested in early January just as he was preparing to depart on a London vacation for several weeks. He, along with Michael Nelson, 40, of Manchester, Kenneth Devries, 52, of Waterbury, Chad McCluskey, 43, of San Clemente, CA, and Kristen Laschober, 47, of Laguna Niguel, CA, were all indicted on various counts of conspiracy to distribute and distributing large quantities of the drug by a federal grand jury in Bridgeport on Tuesday.
Fall From Grace
Based on Salvatore's affidavit, Wallin appeared to be the ringleader on the Connecticut side of the operation. He would receive large shipments of the drug from McCluskey and Laschober in California, re-package it and then sell it locally. Wallin would then pay for the meth by depositing money into a series of bank accounts in Connecticut that McCluskey and Laschober had access to.
The Diocese of Bridgeport, where by all accounts Wallin was still employed and receiving a salary up to the point of his arrest, released a statement Wednesday that Wallin resigned as Pastor of St. Augustine Parish in June of 2011 and was granted a sabbatical shortly thereafter. "He told parishioners and friends that he was struggling with a number of health and personal issues," according to the statement.
But a story in the Connecticut Post on Friday tells a far different story of Wallin's departure from St. Augustine Parish. Citing unnamed sources, the Post said that Wallin would often disappear for days on end from his post at the parish, "entertain odd-looking men" in the rectory dressed as a woman, and would sometimes engage in "sex acts" with these men, who were sometimes also dressed in women's clothing.
DEA agents first became aware of Wallin's activities when an informant told them he met Wallin at a party in early 2012 and quickly arranged to purchase six ounces of the drug a week from Wallin at the cost of $9,000, which the informant then planned to redistribute in New York City, according to the affidavit. However, that arrangement only appears to have lasted six weeks until the diocese apparently ordered Wallin to attend a rehab facility "at which time he was unable to continue to provide the drug," according to the affidavit.
Federal investigators and state police began tracking Wallin's movements in September of 2012, around the time that he indicated to an undercover officer that he was in the process of purchasing the Land of Oz adult specialty and video store located at 462 Washington Ave. in North Haven.
The Land of Oz
In addition to the adult video store, which investigators said they believe Wallin used to "launder his drug proceeds," Wallin also used multiple pre-paid cellphones and a neighbor, Devries, also known as "Lyme," in his distribution operation, according to the affidavit.
Wallin would also use code in text messages and phone conversations to avoid directly talking about the drug. In one exchange with an undercover agent, recorded in the affidavit, Wallin asked if the agent wanted to purchase "five Grover Clevelands," which is equal to $500 worth of the drug, or "five grovers," which would have been five grams of the drug.
According to the affidavit, Wallin also kept a safe in his Waterbury apartment that contained a "bulk quantity of cash," and had various packing and measuring equipment scattered around the place as well. In one instance, during a transaction at Wallin's 22 Golden Hill St. apartment in Waterbury, the undercover agent noticed a "large, gallon size Ziploc bag filled with what appeared to be crystal methamphetamine" sitting on a desk, according to the affidavit.
However, according to a story in Friday's Hartford Courant, Wallin may not actually have owned the Land of Oz sex shop on Washington Avenue, but instead simply purchased the store's inventory. Wallin had filed an application with the town of North Haven to move the store to a location on State Street using a limited liability corporation known as Rahab and Endor and a fictions address, according to the Courant. In the Bible, Rahab was a prostitute in the Old Testament who God spared during the fall of Jericho, while Endor is a witch and prophet who predicts the death of King Saul.
Devries was Wallin's neighbor in a two-story, four-unit apartment on Golden Hill Street in Waterbury. They occupied the only two units on the second floor and Devries would sometimes distribute drugs and collect money for Wallin in his absence; Wallin planned to leave Devries in charge of his distribution operation when he went on vacation to London for two weeks. At one point, Wallin told an undercover officer that he paid for Devries rent and utilities as well as his own. Devries was arrested along with Wallin at their residences on Jan. 3.
McCluskey and Laschober, who appeared to have a personal relationship together, were Wallin's suppliers in California. They would FedEx him large quantities of the drug, sometimes multiple ounces at a time, and Wallin would re-package it and sell it locally, according to the affidavit. Wallin would then pay McCluskey and Laschober by depositing money into a series of accounts that they had access to. Around December of 2012, Wallin, McCluskey and Laschober began to disagree on exactly how much of the drug they shipped to Wallin and how much money he owned them in return; each apparently kept different spreadsheets detailing the transactions. McCluskey and Laschober were arrested in Las Vegas on Jan. 10.
During a "lengthy" phone conversation Wallin had with Nelson, of Manchester, on Dec. 16, 2012, Wallin recounts the issues he was having with McCluskey and Laschober in trying to square their divergent accountings, according to the affidavit. It is the only recorded conversation where Wallin discusses his suppliers by name and details his distribution business; it is also the only time Nelson is mentioned in the affidavit.
Nelson's address in the affidavit is only listed as "Buckland Hills Drive" and no further information about his connection to the distribution ring was available Friday. He was arrested on Tuesday after the indictment was returned.
A Distinguished Career
Fein stressed in his release that "Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Whatever the outcome, Wallin's arrest seems to have shocked and startled many throughout Connecticut and the Catholic community who fondly recalled him for his years of service to the church.
"News of Msgr. Kevin Wallin's arrest comes with a sense of shock and concern on the part of the Diocese and the many people of Fairfield County who have known him as a gifted, accomplished and compassionate priest," the Diocese of Bridgeport said in its statement.
If convicted on the charges, all suspects would face a minimum term of 10 years in prison, a maximum term of life, and a fine of up to $10 million. Wallin faces additional charges that could see him face a minimum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million for each additional count.
Wallin was ordained in 1984, and served in Bridgeport until 1996, when he was transferred to Danbury, according to published reports. Wallin returned to Bridgeport in 2002, where he remained until his leave of absence in 2011.
In 2010, Sacred Heart University presented Wallin with its annual Discovery Award, which is intended "to recognize and celebrate the gifts of caring and accomplished people."
The affidavit has been attached to this article as a PDF.