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'Historic' operation in Athens nabs 16 federal drug suspects, nets nearly $1M in drugs, 43 guns

Rickshun Willingham

By Joe Johnson

More than 300 law enforcement members from 23 agencies and task forces participated in “Operation Benchwarmers,” a coordinated take-down of 16 of 17 defendants wanted on federal gun and drug charges.

The indictments and arrests were announced Thursday, during a joint press conference in Athens by Charles “Charlie” Peeler, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill.

The operation, believed to be the largest law enforcement operation in the history of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, took place on Tuesday in the Athens region, netting heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs with an estimated street value of slightly less than $1 million, 43 guns that included eight assault rifles, plus $84,013 in cash.

“This operation represents the best of what law enforcement can accomplish when federal, state and local agencies come together with the unified goal of eradicating drug trafficking from a community,” Peeler said.

Adrian Mapp

“Our message to drug traffickers and gang members and other criminals in Athens is clear: Law enforcement is committed to protecting the citizens of Athens from illegal guns, gangs and drugs. I want to thank all participating agencies involved in this historic operation,” the federal prosecutor said.

Andreasa Lane

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Middle Georgia Safe Streets Gang Task Force, the Northeast Georgia Regional Drug Task Force, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia and numerous other local and state agencies.

Andrew Bravo Jimenez

“This case is a perfect example of how the FBI’s partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are integral to protecting law abiding citizens in our communities,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta office. “The results of this operation speak for that. There is no question that our community is safer today than it was before these arrests.”

Antonio Mitchell

Spruill noted that “With these arrests, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department is demonstrating its commitment to work with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to remove violent felons from our community.”

Armand Payne

Taija Forney

The police chief added, “These suspects, with extensive criminal histories, face significantly long sentences in federal prison. It further indicates that the ACCPD does not tolerate gun violence and drug trafficking within our community. We are grateful for the efforts of our officers who have worked countless hours on this case and acknowledge the support of the many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.”

Bernard Barnett

Zenon Carrera-Ferrer

Recently unsealed federal indictments named 17 defendants, Peeler said, all but one of whom are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine. The penalty is a mandatory minimum ten years in prison up to a maximum life term in prison.

Christopher Sanders

The defendants were identified as:

· Rickshun Willigham, aka “Teddy,” 32, of Athens

· Jaquavious T. Turner, aka “Take One”

· Jamian Huff, aka “Dunk,” 34, of Athens

· Andrew Bravo Jimenez, aka “Droopy” (at-large)

· Manuel Gonzalez Romero, of Athens and Mexico

· Steven Ricole Scott, aka “Black,” aka “Unc,” 43, of Athens

· Antonio M. Mitchell, aka “Tonio,” 30, of Athens

· Marques Ward, aka “YG,” 31, of Athens

· Ttajia Forney, 19, of Athens

· Christopher Sanders, aka “Chris,” 33, of Athens

· Bernard Barnett, aka “Nard,” 22, of Athens

· Maquila Jones, aka “Qui,” 20, of Athens

· Nicholas Jackson, aka “Nick Bean,” 26, of Athens

· Terrell Bush, aka “T-Rock,” 45, of Athens

· Shaddrick Cox, aka “Shad,” 24, of Athens

· Robert Bolton, Jr., aka “Rob,” 31, of Athens

Dwight Moreland

Ten of the defendants are charged with distribution of cocaine base/crack cocaine. The penalties range from a maximum 20 years in prison to a maximum 40 years in prison.

They were identified as Willingham (15 counts); Scott (three counts); Turner (9 counts); Huff; Barnett (two counts); Cox; Sanders; Bolton; Mitchell; and Jones.