By Joe Johnson
The leader of a drug trafficking organization responsible for importing about 2,000 kilos of cocaine from Mexico has pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking conspiracy charges.
A lot of the coke trafficked by 53-year-old Albert "Big" Ross of Atlanta ended up in Athens and surrounding areas.
On Monday in U.S. District Court in Macon, Ross
pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
When sentenced at a later date Ross will face a mandatory minimum of ten years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million per count.
Accused dealers TaMichael Darden of Athens and Reginald Battle Sr.of Statham who were supplied by Ross's organization are under federal indictment and awaiting trial.
“Albert Ross directed enormous amounts of deadly drugs into Georgia from Mexico for many years—harming our citizens and communities in exchange for a lavish lifestyle. Ross even admitted to ordering the murder of an associate tied to a drug shipment intercepted by law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary.
The arrests of Ross and others resulted from a multi-year investigation that included several law enforcement agencies that included the FBI and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
“Cases like this exemplify the value of partnerships between local, state and federal agencies,” ACCPD Police Chief Jerry Saulters said. "The volume of dangerous drugs, not to mention the firearms and acts of violence, impact our communities beyond comprehension. We will continue to pursue the traffickers who bring their poison into our community and threaten the livelihood of our residents.”
According to the stipulation of fact read in court and other documents, Ross admitted that he was the leader of a large-scale drug trafficking organization (DTO) that was responsible for importing approximately 2,000 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico, along with other illegal drugs. Large amounts of cocaine was distributed by Ross’s DTO into the Middle District of Georgia, the federal jurisdiction in which Athens is located.
The FBI-Athens Resident Agency initiated a long-term investigation focused primarily on Ross’s cocaine distribution activities. Through the use of many investigative techniques including wiretaps, physical surveillance, vehicle trackers and confidential informants, agents identified a network of individuals associated with Ross’s DTO.
Working with co-conspirators, investigators discovered that Ross directed individuals to transport large quantities of cocaine from Texas to be distributed to Ross’s customers and associates. Ross’s DTO was supplied cocaine by a source in Mexico affiliated with the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG). Money for the cocaine purchases was given to couriers in Atlanta who would then deliver the money to Ross’s cocaine supplier in Mexico.
Agents learned that Ross and co-conspirators flew to Mexico City in August 2019 to meet with Ross’s CJNG cocaine supplier and his cartel boss to negotiate a deal where they would supply Ross’s DTO with 200 additional kilograms of cocaine per month. A text string found on Ross’s seized iPhone detailed that in under a one-month period between March 14 and April 4, 2020, Ross was supplied with 112 kilograms of cocaine. During the same period, Ross sent more than $2.5 million in payment for the drugs to his cocaine source in Mexico. Additional evidence revealed that in a three-month period in 2018, Ross received 1,300 kilograms of cocaine from a different Mexican supplier. Once the cocaine arrived in the Atlanta area, Ross stashed the dope at an elderly family member’s home, who had previously been shot picking up drug proceeds at Ross’s direction.
Co-defendants Lonnie Bennett, 44, of Atlanta, and Brandon Payne, 30, of Atlanta, sold cocaine supplied by Ross out of their stash house on Pittman Road in College Park, Georgia. Co-defendant TaMichael Darden, 42, of Athens made over twenty trips from Athens to the Pittman Road stash house to purchase cocaine that he later sold throughout the Middle District.
Ross is tied to past large drug seizures in Georgia. In March 2018, Ross and his business partner purchased approximately $4 million of cocaine for transport from Texas to Georgia; a tractor trailer was stopped on I-20 by a Georgia trooper, who found 152 kilograms of cocaine in a false wall inside the transport truck. Following the cocaine seizure, Ross asked another co-conspirator to kill the person responsible for overseeing the intercepted drug load. The co-conspirator refused the murder order. In December 2018, DEA agents received information from a confidential source that Ross was moving a large amount of cash from illegal drug sales from Atlanta to California using private aircraft. Agents observed men leave Ross’s Bouldercrest Road stash house and board a plane at Peachtree Dekalb Airport with four suitcases and two backpacks. DEA and FBI agents in California were waiting and seized more than $2 million in drug proceeds from the luggage.
In addition, Ross tasked co-conspirators with transporting and distributing large shipments of marijuana from “Murder Mountain,” a region in Humboldt County, California known for its marijuana production. For example, 24,000 pounds of marijuana was shipped over eight trips from California to Georgia as directed by Ross. Significant amounts were distributed to dealers in the Middle District, including Reginald Battle Sr. of Statham.
Ross was ultimately arrested on Sept. 23, 2021, at his home in Stone Mountain, where agents found more than $300,000 in cash wrapped in tinfoil and vacuum sealed in black trash bags inside Ross’s bedroom closet. Inside an Atlanta area bar owned by Ross, agents seized more than $600,000 in drug proceeds.
During the investigation law enforcement seized a total of $3,164,210 cash, 73 firearms, 165.22 kilos of cocaine, 1.32 kilograms of fentanyl, 11.25 ounces of heroin, 1.39 kilograms of crack cocaine, 12.57 lbs. of crystal methamphetamine, 25.35 lbs. of marijuana and 198 doses of controlled pharmaceuticals.