By Joe Johnson
An Athens woman who was among 68 defendants ensnared by an ongoing, large-scale drug trafficking investigation has pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of methamphetamine, the U.S. Justice Department announced this week.
Latasha Ann Bishop, 33, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal on Wednesday, according to a media release from Charlie Peeler, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
Bishop faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $1,000,000 fine and four years of supervised release. Her sentencing date has not been scheduled. There is no parole in the federal justice system.
Bishop was one of 68 people who were charged with drug and gun crimes as a result of “Operation Wu Block.” To date, 45 have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing.
“We are moving swiftly to crack down on criminals involved in pushing methamphetamine into our communities across the Middle District of Georgia,” Peeler said. “I want to commend the excellent work of all the agencies involved in this massive OCDETF (Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force) investigation. Meth suppliers and sellers will face federal prosecution, and the possibility of up to life in prison without parole, for choosing to traffic meth.”
“Street drug gangs infest our communities with more than illicit drugs like ‘Meth,’ as was the case in this investigation. They also spread gun violence and death. Operation Wu Block united federal, state and local law enforcement authorities in an effort to dismantle and destroy violent drug organizations that plagued a number of communities in middle Georgia. This case exemplifies how success can be achieved when law enforcement confront, engage and remove violent drug traffickers,” DEA Atlanta Field Division Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Murphy.
"This investigation resulted in the removal of drugs, guns, money and over 60 defendants from our streets, which had an immediate impact on our communities," said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. "Bishop is another of those defendants who is now being held accountable for endangering the people who live in those communities."
“Operation Wu Block” is a multi-year OCDETF investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Macon Resident Office, FBI Middle Georgia Safe Streets Gang Task Force, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, Hart County Sheriff’s Office, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Department of Corrections and Northeast Regional Drug Task Force in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.
“Operation Wu Block” resulted in the seizure of more than 58 kilograms of methamphetamine, more than two kilograms of heroin, 31 firearms and $56,000. 19 federal indictments charging a total of 68 defendants were returned by federal grand juries in the Middle District of Georgia. The charges range from conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine with a maximum sentence of life in prison; conspiracy with intent to distribute heroin with a maximum sentence of 40 years imprisonment; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine or heroin with sentences ranging from a maximum twenty years to life in prison; distribution of methamphetamine or heroin with sentences ranging from twenty years to life in prison, depending on the amount of controlled substances charged; and, possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking with a maximum sentence of life in prison. An indictment is only an allegation of criminal conduct, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendants, along with their current case status, are as follows:
Athens-Clarke County: Byron Bennett, 41 (pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing); Chuckferrio Booker, 30 (sentenced); Haley Carter, 21; Steven Mark Cook, 32; Crystal Eddy, 38 (pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing); Jeri Renee Elliott, 49 (sentenced); Jennifer Gee, 33; Howard Burnham Gowen, 50; Jonathan Green, 34; Cierra Gresham, 23; Kristy Lynn Houseman, 40; Jessica Kraps, 35; Dwayne Maddox, 34; Ashley Michelle Manley 25; Kyle Melton, 34; Andrew Moon, 31; Rodney Lewis Moore, 33; Gregory Mulligan, 29; Michelle Mutch, 27; Greyson Newsome, 31; Audrey Lynn Paige, 30; Kenneth Sterling, 50; Pamela Lynn Sutton, 38; Travis Wheeler, 36; April Wolford, 29; Garrett Wolford, 33; Darien Woodrum, 27
Barrow County: Maurice Hancock, 46; Steven Turbeville
Cobb County: Lazaro Hernandez, 28; Cindy Isamara Ramos, 28; Mario Alberto Silverio, 40
Elbert County: Jason Monroe Bellew, 35 (sentenced)
Franklin County: Angela Fain, 48; William Fain, 55
Gordon County: David Zavala, 28
Gwinnett County: Frankie Baza, 32; Mishel Cruz Sanchez, 29; Russel Huckeba, 40; Esmeralda Mata-Bustos, 38; Ricardo Turrubiartes Amaro, 22
Hart County: Joey Arguelles, 24 (pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing); Joshua Wayne Coker, 38 (sentenced); Thomas Joey Fowler; Daniel Keith McCullough, 27; Scott Moore, 39; Madlyn Vista Mull, 21
Madison County: Benjamin Bray, 23; Ashley Davis, 26 (pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing); Bruce Hicks, 39; Ronald Kelley, 49
Oconee County: Peggy Bentley, 48 (pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing); Jason Casey, 38 (sentenced); Justin Clouse, 38 (sentenced); Larry Thomas Coker, 34 (pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing); Jasmin Duarte, 26 (sentenced); Juan Espino, 45; Shana Leeanne Smith, 31
Oglethorpe County: Mechelle Morris, 44; Mathew Shaver, 43; James Andrew Young, 26
Pickens County: Kenneth Lee Jarrett, 59
Walton County: Ricky Keith Young, 32
Arlington, Virginia: William Mathew Howard, 45
Bristol, Tennessee: Chandler Moore, 35; Cecil Wampler, 35
Johnson City, Tennessee: Amy Laura Leonard, 51