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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
Eight defendants charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime are Willigham (12 counts); Turner (7 counts); Barnett (3 counts); Sanders; Mitchell; Ward; Forney; and Cox.
Charged with distribution of heroin are Willigham (5 counts); Turner (3 counts); and Barnett (2 counts).
Six defendants are charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin. The penalties range from a maximum 20 years in prison to a maximum 40 years in prison.
They were identified as Ward, Forney, Bush, Jackson, Romero and Jimenez, who remained at large.
Charged with distribution of methamphetamine, an offense punishable by 20 years in prison are Willigham and Barnett.
Ward and Forney are charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Payne is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
One defendant remained at-large, Andrew Bravo Jimenez, aka “Droopy,” 25, of Athens and Texas.
Arrested on state charges in Madison County during the operation were Luis Besave-Lagunas (trafficking heroin and methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony); Andreas Lane (possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and a probation violation); and Adian Mapp (possession with intent to distribute heroin and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon).
The Athens residents arrested on state charges were identified as Zenon Carrera-Ferrer (trafficking methamphetamine and heroin, and possession of cocaine); Dwight Moreland (probation violation); and Leonard Jackson (possession of a firearm by a convicted felon).
The following were seized during “Operation Benchwarmers:
· 43 firearms seized (including 8 assault rifles)
· $84,013 cash
· 8.34 kilograms of heroin (street value: $667,200)
· 4.3 pounds of crystal methamphetamine (street value: $195,400)
· 26.1 ounces of crack cocaine (street value: $78,200)
· 2.4 pounds of marijuana (street value: $4,376)
· 3.31 ounces of powder cocaine (street value: $9,400)
· 94 controlled pharmaceuticals (street value: $940)
· 40 grams of oxycodone (street value: $470)
Also assisting in the operation were:
· Athens-Clarke Fire and Emergency Services Department
· Banks County Sheriff’s Office
· Clarke County Sheriff’s Office
· DeKalb County Police Department
· Georgia Bureau of Investigation
· Georgia Department of Community Supervision
· Georgia Department of Corrections
· Georgia State Patrol
· Greene County Sheriff’s Office
· Gwinnett County Police Department
· Homeland Security Investigations
· Madison County Sheriff’s Office
· Oconee County Sheriff’s Office
· City of Statham Police Department
· United States Marshals Service
· United States Probation Office
· Walton County Sheriff’s Office