SEARCY —Seventeen individuals were arrested Thursday morning, March 11, as part of a sweeping law enforcement operation that targeted associates of a drug organization responsible for the distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine in Searcy and the White County area, federal law enforcement officials announced.
The investigation, named Operation Central Sweep, began in April 2020 to combat the growing violent crimes associated with gang-related activity traced to the “Gangster Disciples,” a drug distribution organization operating in the Searcy area. Numerous indictments, which were returned by a Grand Jury on March 5, 2020, and unsealed Thursday, named 33 defendants who are charged with various drug and firearm offenses. Law enforcement officers arrested 17 individuals, and eight defendants were already in state custody prior to today’s operation. Eight defendants are currently considered fugitives.
Prior to the arrests, the investigation had resulted in the seizure of 105 pounds of methamphetamine, 3.3 pounds of cocaine, and 44 firearms. During arrest operations on Thursday, agents recovered four additional firearms.
“Our neighborhoods deserve to exist without fear and intimidation inflicted by violent drug gangs like the Gangster Disciples,” said Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Brad L. Byerley. “The arrests today are an example of DEA’s relentless pursuit to target individuals and organizations that plague and pollute our communities with their drug trafficking and violence. DEAs continued pledge to the people of Arkansas is to continue to continue to work with all our law enforcement partners to pursue these violent criminals and drug traffickers.”
“The focus is on the community,” said Thomas Noyes, Inspector in Charge of the United States Postal Inspection Service Fort Worth Division. “It is fulfilling to see an array of departments working together to take criminals, drugs, and guns off the streets, but the real reward is restoring a sense of safety to the community. It is an honor to have worked with so many towards that end, and we thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their commitment to seek the maximum prosecution for criminals who have posed such grave danger to our towns.”
“As today’s operation demonstrated, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with our state and federal law enforcement partners, continues to enhance our ability to disrupt deadly narcotics and weapons trafficking,” said HSI New Orleans acting Special Agent in Charge Jack Staton. “This operation sends a strong message to drug dealers that HSI will use every available resource to prevent and dismantle the flow of dangerous and addictive substances into our communities.”
ATF is proud to stand with our state, federal and local partners against violent drug and gang crime in our communities,” said William McCrary, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). “This case is a great example of cooperative law enforcement at its best. We will continue to work together to address these serious crimes.”
The investigation was conducted jointly with DEA, ATF, Homeland Security Investigations, United States Postal Inspection Service, Searcy Police Department, 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, White County Sheriff’s Office; and the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force.
Additional agencies assisting in the arrest operation included Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Highway Police, Arkansas Department of Corrections, Arkansas National Guard Counterdrug Unit, 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, Prairie County Sheriff’s Office, White County Sheriff’s Office, United States Marshals Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and United States Probation Office.
The charges in today’s unsealed indictments include conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine; distribution and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; felon in possession of a firearm; and unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm.
The maximum penalty for the drug charges is not less than 10 years in prison and up to life imprisonment and a $10,000,000 fine. The maximum penalty for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime is not less than five years in prison and up to life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for being a felon or an unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm is 10 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
The defendants will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on March 15, at 9 a.m. for plea and arraignment. Defendants who were already in custody will have arraignments scheduled later. Trial dates will be announced at plea and arraignment. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Amanda Fields. The defendants charged include:
Juan Ahumada, 26, Searcy (*)
Christopher Barefield, 28, Conway
Cory Birdwell, 34, Searcy (*)
Rodney Bishop, 46, Judsonia (&)
Benjamin Blue, 44, Searcy (*)
Dennis Boatman, 29, Searcy (&)
Albert Cates, 57, Searcy (&)
Aaron Cromwell, 29, Searcy (*)
Justice Cunningham, 23, Searcy (%)
Athena Delancey, 40, Augusta
Sigmond Donelson, 47, Searcy
Kayla Haggins, 26, Helena-West Helena (*)
Kenny Isom, 32, McRae (*)
Keith Johnson, 38, Helena-West Helena (*)
Lyron Johnson, 57, Searcy
Timothy Johnston, 58, Searcy (*)
Rickey Jones, 34, Searcy (&)
Christopher Koser, 19, Judsonia
Earl Lockhart III, 44, Augusta
Felicia Mason, 25, Searcy
Michael Matthews, 39, Bald Knob (*)
Anthony Miles, 55, Judsonia (*)
Donald Patterson, 33, Helena-West Helena (*)
Branden Priddy, 29, Searcy (&)
Cynthia Rainey, 35, Searcy (*)
John Rayburn, 30, Searcy (*)
Roderick Roberson, 43, Searcy
Andre “Smoke” Smith, 21, Searcy (*)
Nathaniel Stipes, 28, Judsonia (*)
Marcus Trouten, 35, Searcy (*)
Terry White, 26, Searcy
Keith Williams, 47, Augusta (&)
Evander Young, 32, Searcy (*)
* arrested Thursday
& in state custody
An indictment contains only allegations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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