LONNIE GENE WRIGHT
Year Inducted: 2016
Lonnie Wright became an agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1977 when the agency was in its infancy. He became one of the top undercover agents in the State of Oklahoma and gained notoriety across the United States as an expert in Air Smuggling Investigations and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Lonnie was an officer in the Air Smuggling Investigators Association and worked numerous interstate and international smuggling cases.
Early in his career, Lonnie spearheaded investigations resulting in the prosecution of a sitting judge for taking bribes and a sitting district attorney on other criminal charges.
Lonnie was promoted to chief of the Bureau’s Intelligence Division by then Director Fred Means in 1988. He and agents working in the Intelligence Division traveled the state weaving the various drug task forces, police departments, and sheriff’s offices to create and foster the sharing of intelligence and case information.
In keeping with Lonnie’s belief in information sharing and training, he was also one of the founding members of the Association of Oklahoma Narcotic Enforcers (A-ONE). Lonnie served as one of that association’s first presidents. Lonnie used his personal credit card to help finance A-ONE’s first training conference in 1989. A-ONE has grown into the premier narcotics training and information sharing association in the State of Oklahoma, and one of the outstanding narcotics officer’s associations in the country, boasting a membership of over 600 officers. Lonnie’s belief in A-ONE and its mission would continue until his untimely death seventeen years later.
In 1995 Lonnie and then Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) Director Malcom Atwood began the state’s first fulltime wiretap unit focused entirely on identifying cartel-linked drug cell groups. The investigative methods and legal forms and formats which grew out of this unit are widely used by law enforcement across Oklahoma to this day. From 1996 through 2006 the Bureau’s wiretap unit executed nearly one-hundred separate wiretap orders from state and federal courts.
Lonnie retired from the Bureau of Narcotics in 2002 after 25 years of service and accepted a position with the District Attorney’s Council (DAC) as the drug task force coordinator. During his time with DAC, Lonnie continued his efforts to coordinate the investigative efforts of these various task forces. However, by that time the overwhelming number of clandestine methamphetamine labs were occupying most task force efforts.
Early in 2003, during a car ride, Lonnie and close friend Scott Rowland began discussing legislative changes which might slow the spread of clandestine meth labs in Oklahoma. In a partnership with State Representative John Nance public hearings were held in the fall of 2003 on the proposal to control pseudoephedrine as well as other anti-drug proposals including increased funding for drug court and stricter bail laws for manufacturers.
In June of 2003, Lonnie was named Director of the Bureau of Narcotics and continued his fight to control pseudoephedrine. Lonnie was bitterly opposed by large drug manufacturers and lobbyists, but stubbornly stood his ground before the Oklahoma Legislature regarding effects of methamphetamine manufacturing and difference controlling pseudoephedrine could make. Lonnie’s arguments were made all the more real by the murders of Troopers Rocky Eales and Nikky Green, as well as homicides of Matthew Evans and Oklahoma City Police Officer Jeff Rominger. House Bill 2176, later known as the Troopers Nikky Green, Rocky Easles, and Matthew Evans Act, was signed into law by Governor Brad Henry on April 6, 2004, controlling pseudoephedrine. The immediate positive effect on meth labs after the passage of Oklahoma’s law enabled Lonnie to testify before various legislatures in other states to help those states obtain similar legislation. In November 2004 Lonnie appeared before a committee of the United States Congress. Although federal support for the idea of control of pseudoephedrine was lukewarm at best, the results spoke loudly for themselves. In short order federal laws were enacted modeled much after the Oklahoma law.
In March of 2006, John P. Walters, Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President of the United States flew to Oklahoma City and presented Lonnie with Director’s Award for Distinguished Service for his work in getting state and federal laws passed to control the availability of pseudoephedrine.
Lonnie’s career was marked by being key and instrumental in some of the biggest investigations of his time. The quality and magnitude of these investigations often resulted in their becoming federal prosecutions, although most press account of them will not contain Lonnie’s name. That was not his style; he believed undercover agents should remain in the background, and this bent remained with him even in his years as a chief agent and director. His public appearances and press interviews were usually only at the urging, “Lonnie, we need the director out front on this one.”
Lonnie’s career and his accomplishments were conducted in relative anonymity and obscurity, which is the only way he would have had it.
On April 27, 2006, after canceling his appearance at a press conference with the United States Attorney’s Office Lonnie went home because he didn’t feel well. Lonnie passed away later that afternoon at the age of 51.
Today we honor Lonnie and his legacy by inducting him into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame class of 2016.