A year-long investigation into illegal drug trafficking stretching from Atlanta to Thomson has resulted in a total of 23 persons -- many of whom live in McDuffie County -- having been indicted on assorted charges by a federal grand jury.
At least three other persons were taken into custody on unrelated charges.
The probe, which was spearheaded by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Georgia Bureau of Investigation, (GBI) netted a large quantity of drugs, cash, weapons and vehicles.
A roundup of those indicted on drug conspiracy charges began in and around Thomson about 6 a.m. Monday. By 4 p.m. that afternoon, a total of 14 of 18 persons had been apprehended by local, state and federal authorities in this area, McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall said.
The other defendants still were being sought Tuesday night.
"This was a continuation of a drug conspiracy roundup that was conducted here a few months ago," Sheriff Marshall said. "These persons are all wanted on federal indictment drug charges."
On May 24, local, state and federal authorities, armed with search warrants, converged on eight residences in McDuffie County and seized various items, including vehicles. At that time, only a few persons were actually taken into custody.
A total of 19 of the defendants arrested in the roundup on Monday had Thomson addresses. "We had a lot of people involved in this thing," Sheriff Marshall said. "I'm just glad we've been able to take them off the streets."
The sheriff had requested help from the federal level a little more than a year ago. "I knew we had a lot of people dealing drugs," Sheriff Marshall said. "And I wanted it stopped."
Thomson Police Chief Joseph D. Nelson, who has been on the job for just a few months, agreed with the sheriff that the streets of Thomson and elsewhere "will now be just a little more safe with these people in jail. After all, our citizens deserve to live in a drug-free community."
More than 60 law enforcement officers participated in the drug roundup -- one of the largest drug investigations to have occurred locally in many years.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney James D. Durham said a federal judge unsealed the 56-count indictment against the defendants on Monday afternoon. Taken in vans and patrol cars to the federal courthouse in Augusta where the defendants were turned over to deputies with the U.S. Marshals Service, they later attended first-appearance bond hearings before U.S. Magistrate W. Leon Barfield.
Mr. Durham identified those indicted as:
William Leon "Fats" Woods, III, 30, of Atlanta;
Kevin Elliott "Hulk" Gaines, 29, of Thomson;
Antonio Dantwan "Grip" or "Grippsta Hitla" Grisson, 27, of Thomson;
Eddie Dewayne "Shawty Mac" Galison, 27, of Thomson;
Gregory Valenetino Ivey, 24, of Thomson;
Solomon Mandrell "Sol" Grier, 32, of Thomson;
Devicci Troy Moss, 29, of Thomson;
Cedric Ferlando Johnson, 30, of Thomson;
Robert Lee "Pookie" or "Boss Mac" Belton, Jr., 32, of Thomson;
Chris Antonio Moss, 33, of Thomson;
Santiono Tywan Cartledge, 29, of Thomson;
Tito Navada Hatcher, 37, of Sparta;
Ernest Roymettris Hatcher, 28, of Sparta;
Sanxchez Vanquis Jones, 27, of Thomson;
Robert Lee "Pee Wee" Williams, 31, of Thomson;
Robert Lee "Boo" Neal, Sr., 49, of Thomson;
James "Trouble" Bouttry, Jr., 24, of Thomson;
Jamario "Quill" Quilton Lee, 26, of Thomson;
Mario Deangelo "Debo" Clemons, 28, of Thomson;
Quantavious Antwain Dawson, 26, of Thomson;
Christine Michelle Willingham, 36, of Appling;
April Olivia Dawson, 37, of Thomson; and
Debra Gaines, 48, of Thomson.
Specific charges against the defendants are varied and are contained in a 56-count indictment.
Court records, obtained by The McDuffie Mirror , contend that many of the defendants began engaging in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances on or about Jan. 1, 2006. Such illegal activities continued in McDuffie, Warren and Taliaferro counties. The activities also carried on elsewhere within the U.S. Southern District of Georgia, as well as within the Northern District of Georgia.
The defendants are accused of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride, a Schedule II controlled substance; 280 grams or more of cocaine base, a Schedule II controlled substance; an amount of Oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance; and an amount of methylenedioxy methamphetamine, commonly referred to as MDMA or Ecstacy, court records show.
Authorities seized various narcotics and arrested at least three other persons not related to the federal roundup, Sheriff Marshall said.
At one residence on Ellington-Airline Road near Dearing, authorities discovered about 50 pieces of crack cocaine. The name of the defendant living there was not immediately released by authorities.
In another instance, three persons were taken into custody, including one of the defendants, after authorities found drugs openly in their sight at a residence in Thomson.
"This prosecution required the coordinated efforts of law enforcement on the state and federal levels to bring to justice those who profit from the scourge of illegal narcotics trafficking," U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver said in a press release. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to partner with federal, state and local agencies to prosecute drug dealers and remove their drugs and dangerous weapons from our communities."
Rick Maxwell, assistant special agent in-charge of the FBI's Augusta and Atlanta field offices termed Monday's operation as "highly" successful.
"This was a great success," Agent Maxwell said.
"The cooperation that the FBI received from other law enforcement agencies regarding this investigation has been fantastic."
Sheriff Marshall agreed.
"There's no way we could have done anything like this within our department, because it was so big in scope," Sheriff Marshall said.
"We had great cooperation from a lot of agencies and I really appreciate it."