A two-month undercover operation involving a Thurmont police officer posing as a Burger King employee netted 5 grams of marijuana and two morphine pills, according to police.
The operation began in August as Officer Nicole Fair was still adjusting to the department, having started July 1. Fair’s tenure coincided with complaints about drugs being sold out of the Burger King on North Church Street. Her supervisors quickly realized the opportunity to run an undercover operation, Chief Greg Eyler said.
“It is less common, because we live in a small, tight-knit community where people know one another. In this case, we had a new officer who wasn’t well-known in Thurmont at the time,” Eyler explained. “So we thought that we would put her in there in a covert operation.”
Submitting a résumé that included some of her work history but excluded her law enforcement career, Fair was hired by the fast-food restaurant in early August and set out to get to the bottom of the rumors.
By Sept. 22, indictments were unsealed against two Burger King employees, 23-year-old Tommy Lee Miller and 28-year-old Jonathan Brook Moser, in Frederick County Circuit Court on the strength of Fair’s undercover work, which resulted in at least two drug purchases by the new officer.
“I was hired to help and protect the community of Thurmont, and that was what I was doing. You hear about all the drug problems we’re having here and elsewhere and, whether it’s marijuana or something else, we’re really feeling the effects of it,” Fair said of her role in the arrests. “To be able to do something to directly address that, especially being a new officer, was extremely rewarding.”
Police seized 5 grams of marijuana and two morphine pills during the operation, Eyler wrote in an email response to The Frederick News-Post’s questions Tuesday.
Possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana on its own is not enough to warrant more than a criminal citation under state law, but because the men sold marijuana to Fair, both were charged with distribution and possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, more serious offenses that carry jail time, Eyler said.
“It was worth doing the investigation because distribution is a felony and they were dealing at a restaurant, which is totally inappropriate,” the chief said of the undercover operation.
Before the investigating, the department did not know the quantity of drugs Miller and Moser had, Eyler said
No search warrants were filed after the indictments, Eyler said. While drugs were seized during the investigation, police did not have probable cause to search any other addresses, including the Burger King or either man’s home, he said.
Both the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office and Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird were told that police were planning an undercover operation, but Burger King was not notified.
“Based upon the information we had, we felt that anonymity was necessary for the protection of the officer and the integrity of the operation. ... Alerting management would have compromised the investigation,” State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said.
As a business owner himself, Kinnaird said he could sympathize with a company wanting to be told ahead of time about a sensitive operation.
“If it happened to me, that may be my first question, ‘Why wasn’t I informed of this?’” Kinnaird said. “But I’m looking at this as a public official and I support the police department. If you send someone in to just make a buy in the parking lot, that’s all they see, the parking lot. In this case, they were able to get inside the restaurant and link everyone involved in it.”
Craig Giangrande, a representative of the company that runs the Burger King in Thurmont, the Jeffrey Giangrande Corp., initially declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday. He later called back and left a message offering to speak to a reporter, but he could not be reached as of Wednesday afternoon.
Eyler and Giangrande were in touch immediately after the department’s operation concluded, the chief said.
“He’s been great working with us and I know he wants to make sure everything’s working great at the Burger King,” Eyler said of his conversations with Giangrande.
Asked about future investigations, Eyler said that, given the opportunity, the department will eagerly consider its options for undercover operations.
“It’s a first here in town, and we’re not going to stop,” Eyler said. “If we get information, we’ll put people in covert operations and these dealers won’t know who they’re selling to. That’s something that’s not going to stop until we move these dealers out of town.”