Of­fi­cials ar­rest dozens in drug, guns op­er­a­tion

El Dorado News-Times - - State - By Jean­nie Roberts Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

RUSSELLVILLE — More than 200 lo­cal, state and fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cers ar­rested dozens of peo­ple Wed­nes­day morn­ing in a com­pre­hen­sive, two-year drug-traf­fick­ing and firearms crack­down that in­cludes up to 70 de­fen­dants — most of whom are af­fil­i­ated with white su­prem­a­cist groups in the state, of­fi­cials an­nounced.

Of the 70 in­dicted in op­er­a­tion “To the Dirt,” 27 were ar­rested Wed­nes­day, 18 fed­eral and two state de­fen­dants were al­ready in cus­tody and 23 re­mained at large. The traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tion ran from Cal­i­for­nia to Arkansas, but the ma­jor­ity of the de­fen­dants are from Pope and Yell coun­ties.

Those ar­rested were “tip of the spear” lead­ers of the groups, said Cody Hi­land, the newly con­firmed U.S. at­tor­ney for the East­ern District of Arkansas.

Dur­ing the two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion, agents made 59 con­trolled pur­chases of metham­phetamine. Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials seized 69 firearms, more than 25 pounds of metham­phetamine and $70,000 in drug pro­ceeds. That amount in­cluded $65,000 that was seized by the U.S. Postal In­spec­tion Ser­vice and the Con­way Po­lice Depart­ment when de­fen­dants tried to pay for metham­phetamine through the mail from Arkansas to Cal­i­for­nia. Agents also seized a Porsche Car­rera in Cal­i­for­nia that was used for metham­phetamine dis­tri­bu­tion.

“One house had 25 guns in it. An­other house had 14,” Hi­land said. “Those guns in­clude AR-15 and AK-47, high-ca­pac­ity ri­fles.”

The two-year op­er­a­tion was a col­lab­o­ra­tion of mul­ti­ple lo­cal, state and na­tional law en­force­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Bu­reau of Al­co­hol Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives; the Pope County sher­iff’s of­fice; the 5th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit Drug Task Force; Russellville Po­lice Depart­ment; Arkansas State Po­lice; Con­way Po­lice Depart­ment; and the U.S. Postal In­spec­tion Ser­vice.

As­sis­tance for the raid also was pro­vided by the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice, Arkansas High­way Po­lice, Arkansas Na­tional Guard Counter Drug Unit and Arkansas Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tion.

“To­day we dis­man­tled a true, vi­o­lent drug-traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tion,” said An­thony Lemons, act­ing as­sis­tant spe­cial agent in charge of the Lit­tle Rock district of­fice of the DEA. “We’re blessed here in Arkansas be­cause of our strong re­la­tion­ships between the state, lo­cal and fed­eral law en­force­ment. This is truly a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort. We’ve all to­gether, shoul­der-to-shoul­der, dis­man­tled th­ese guys that were caus­ing great havoc and chaos here in this part of Arkansas.”

Hi­land said the crack­down be­gan with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the New Aryan Em­pire, an

Arkansas-based white su­prem­a­cist group.

“It soon be­came ev­i­dent that it was larger than just the NAE,” Hi­land said.

The ar­rests also in­cluded mem­bers of the White Aryan Re­sis­tance, a neo-Nazi white su­prem­a­cist or­ga­ni­za­tion founded in In­di­ana by for­mer Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Tom Met­zger.

Hi­land said nine of those ar­rested were mem­bers or lead­ers of the or­ga­ni­za­tions. Most of the re­main­ing de­fen­dants had “af­fil­i­a­tions” with the New Aryan Em­pire, Hi-land said.

“They were strongly in­volved, a big in­flu­ence over all of this,” Hi­land said.

Wil­liam McCrary, as­sis­tant spe­cial agent in charge with the New Or­leans Field Di­vi­sion of the Bu­reau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives, said the com­mu­nity is safer be­cause the drug-traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion has been dis­man­tled.

“When they are even­tu­ally in­car­cer­ated, it will be even safer,” McCrary said. “The lead­ers and par­tic­i­pants in this are a plague on your com­mu­ni­ties, and we are pleased to have worked to­gether to help end it.”

The case is be­ing pros­e­cuted by As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­neys Liza Jane Brown and Kristin Bryant. Those ar­rested Wed­nes­day will be ar­raigned at 10 a.m. Fri­day in the fed­eral court­house in Lit­tle Rock be­fore U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Pa­tri­cia Har­ris.

Charges in­clude con­spir­acy to dis­trib­ute metham­phetamine, dis­tri­bu­tion of metham­phetamine, pos­ses­sion of a firearm in fur­ther­ance of a drug-traf­fick­ing crime and felon in pos­ses­sion of a firearm. De­fen­dants face penal­ties that in­clude from five to 10 years or life in prison and fines up to $10 mil­lion.

“It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber th­ese peo­ple are in­no­cent un­til proven guilty,” Hi­land said. “That’s what the ju­di­cial process is about. But th­ese ar­rests are im­por­tant, this op­er­a­tion is im­por­tant, and it’s not over.”

Pope County Sher­iff Shane Jones thanked

ev­ery­one for stand­ing with his depart­ment.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “There’s more to come.”

Hi­land said the op­er­a­tion sent a pow­er­ful mes­sage.

“I think it says to the white su­prem­a­cist groups that you’re on our radar and that we’re not go­ing to tol­er­ate vi­o­lent crime and dis­tribut­ing drugs in our com­mu­nity,” Hi­land said. “Peo­ple of­ten say, ‘You can’t kill the drug trade.’ Well, you know, we can never elim­i­nate homi­cide, we can never elim­i­nate theft. We’ll never elim­i­nate com­pletely the drug trade, but we can cer­tainly break its jaw ev­ery now and then. And that’s what we do.”

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