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Two dozen Athens residents indicted in federal drug trafficking probe

By Joe Johnson

Two dozen residents of Athens-Clarke County and many more from surrounding counties were recently indicted in U.S. District Court in Athens as part an ongoing, large-scale drug trafficking investigation dubbed “Operation Wu Block.”

According to an announcement Thursday by Charlie Peeler, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, the operation has yielded criminal charges for 68 individuals and the seizure of multiple kilos of methamphetamine and heroin, with more indictments expected in the coming months.

The two-year Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation is being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Macon office, FBI’s Middle Georgia Safe Streets Gang Task Force, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, and sheriff offices in Hart, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties, the Northeast Regional Drug Task Force and the Georgia Department of Corrections, all in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

Those agencies continue to target large scale drug trafficking organizations operating in northeast Georgia and throughout the state, according to Peeler’s announcement.

The investigation has so far resulted in the seizure of more than 58 kilos of methamphetamine, more than two kilos of heroin, 31 firearms, $56,000, as well as multiple indictments covering the 68 defendants. Charges brought thus far include conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, distribution of controlled substances, and firearm possession, with penalties ranging from five years up to life in prison, depending on the charge.

“Law enforcement in Georgia are aggressively working to find and arrest individuals distributing dangerous drugs in our communities,” Peeler said. “This investigation is a textbook example of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies working together in the Middle District of Georgia to stem the flow of illegal narcotics and the severe damage they cause within our communities.”

The federal prosecutor added, “Drug traffickers beware: law enforcement will find you, and you will be prosecuted.”

Robert J. Murphy, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Atlanta field office, said, “Drug traffickers ultimately bring misery and destruction to our communities. DEA and its law enforcement partners take an oath to protect and serve those communities by removing dangerous criminals from the streets. The collection of law enforcement agencies and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office allowed DEA to mount an aggressive assault against a well-established methamphetamine distribution network.”

Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, said, “The removal of drugs, guns and money and 68 defendants from our streets will have an immediate impact on the safety of our citizens, thanks to a two-year cooperative effort with our federal, state and local partners.

“This case is another example of the commitment to dismantle organizations that wreak havoc in our communities and endanger the people who live in them.”

Charges faced by the defendants include 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 20 years to life in prison; distribution of methamphetamine or heroin with sentences ranging from 20 years to life in prison, depending on the amount of controlled substances charged; possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking crime, with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The defendants are as follows:

1. Arguelles, Joey, 24, Hart County

2. Baza, Frankie, 32, Gwinnett County

3. Bellew, Jason Monroe, 35, Elbert County

4. Bennett, Byron, 41, Athens-Clarke County

5. Bentley, Peggy, 48, Oconee County

6. Bishop, Latasha, 33, Athens-Clarke County

7. Booker, Chuckferrio, 30, Athens-Clarke County

8. Bray, Benjamin, 23, Madison County

9. Carter, Haley, 21, Athens-Clarke County

10. Casey, Jason, 38, Oconee County

11. Clouse, Justin, 38, Athens-Clarke County

12. Coker, Joshua Wayne, 38, Hart County

13. Coker, Larry Thomas, 34, Oconee County

14. Cook, Steven Mark, 32, Athens-Clarke County

15. Cruz Sanchez, Mishel, 29, Gwinnett County

16. Davis, Ashley, 26, Madison County

17. Duarte, Jasmin, 26, Oconee County

18. Eddy, Crystal, 38, Athens-Clarke County

19. Elliott, Jeri Renee, 49, Athens-Clarke County

20. Espino, Juan, 45, Oconee County

21. Fain, Angela, 48, Franklin County

22. Fain, William, 55, Franklin County

23. Fowler, Thomas Joey, Hart County

24. Gee, Jennifer, 33, Athens-Clarke County

25. Gowen, Howard Burnham, 50, Athens-Clarke County

26. Green, Jonathan, 34, Athens-Clarke County

27. Gresham, Cierra, 23, Athens-Clarke County

28. Hancock, Maurice, 46, Barrow County

29. Hernandez, Lazaro, 28, Cobb County

30. Hicks, Bruce, 39, Madison County

31. Houseman Kristy Lynn, 40, Athens-Clarke County

32. Howard, William Mathew, 45, Arlington, Virginia

33. Huckeba, Russel, 40, Gwinnett County

34. Jarrett, Kenneth Lee, 59, Pickens County

35. Kelley, Ronald, 49, Madison County

36. Kraps, Jessica, 35, Athens-Clarke County

37. Leonard, Amy Laura, 51, Johnson City, Tennessee

38. Maddox, Dwayne, 34, Athens-Clarke County

39. Manley, Ashley Michelle, 25, Athens-Clarke County

40. Mata-Bustos, Esmeralda, 38, Gwinnett County

41. McCullough, Daniel Keith, 27, Hart County

42. Melton, Kyle, 34, Athens-Clarke County

43. Moon, Andrew, 31, Athens-Clarke County

44. Moore, Chandler, 35, Bristol, Tennessee

45. Moore, Rodney Lewis, 33, Athens-Clarke County

46. Moore, Scott, 39, Hart County

47. Morris, Mechelle, 44, Oglethorpe County

48. Mull, Madlyn Vista, 21, Hart County

49. Mulligan, Gregory, 29, Athens-Clarke County

50. Mutch, Michelle, 27, Athens-Clarke County

51. Newsome, Greyson, 31, Athens-Clarke County

52. Paige, Audrey Lynn, 30, Athens-Clarke County

53. Ramos, Cindy Isamara, 28, Cobb County

54. Shaver, Mathew, 43, Oglethorpe County

55. Silverio, Mario Alberto, 40, Cobb County

56. Smith, Shana Leeanne, 31, Oconee County

57. Sterling, Kenneth, 50, Athens-Clarke County

58. Sutton, Pamela Lynn, 38, Athens-Clarke County

59. Turbeville, Steven, 38, Barrow County

60. Turrubiartes Amaro, Ricardo, 22, Gwinnett County

61. Wampler, Cecil, 35, Bristol, Tennessee

62. Wheeler, Travis, 36, Athens-Clarke County

63. Wolford, April, 29, Athens-Clarke County

64. Wolford, Garrett, 33, Athens-Clarke County

65. Woodrum, Darien, 27, Athens-Clarke County

66. Young, James Andrew, 26, Oglethorpe County

67. Young, Ricky Keith, 32, Walton County

68. Zavala, David, 28, Gordon County

“Operation Wu Block,” an OCDETF-led investigation, is part of the larger “Operation Crystal Shield,” a national DEA operation first announced on February 20, 2020 during a press conference in Atlanta. The investigation is focused on eight main methamphetamine trafficking transportation hubs across the nation, including Atlanta. Both are on-going operations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamara Jarrett is prosecuting cases arising from this investigation for the Government.

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