NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia — Over 120 law enforcement officers from 30 law enforcement agencies in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas executed a major arrest operation over recently resulting in 35 defendants being arrested for their respective roles in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute large amounts of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and cocaine base in Hampton Roads.
In addition to the arrests, a written statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, law enforcement seized 24 firearms, 30 kilograms of fentanyl, 30 kilograms of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine, and over $700,000 in cash during the three-day takedown.
“This massive interdiction of narcotics, which included enough fentanyl to kill over 14 million people, is proof positive of the power and strength of federal, state, and local law enforcement collaboration,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said. “The 39 charged defendants are just that—charged—and remain innocent unless and until proven otherwise. This operation, through its seizure of scores of kilograms of illicit narcotics, saved lives in the Eastern District and elsewhere. Any day where we can do that is particularly meaningful and impactful. An incredible thank you to our dedicated law enforcement partners and prosecutors.”
According to the 106-count indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury on August 14 and recently unsealed, the 39 co-conspirators were involved in an alleged large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy that began in March 2016. The co-conspirators participated in various criminal acts throughout the alleged conspiracy, including armed drug distribution, while assuming and carrying out different roles such as a supplier, packager, transporter, financier, distributor, and facilitator throughout the life of the alleged drug trafficking ring.
“The narcotics organization identified by our team reached far and wide, spanning state lines and crossing all the way to and from our southern border,” Michael K. Lamonea, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Norfolk, said. “This indictment, and the 106 counts within, demonstrates clearly that the dangerous and illegal smuggling operations from the border limitlessly stretch into the United States and reach directly into our neighborhoods and communities.”
The indictment alleges that the defendants and unindicted co-conspirators would purchase and receive narcotics from suppliers in Mexico, California, and New York, and would arrange for heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and cocaine base to be transported to and within the Eastern District of Virginia using hidden traps in privately owned vehicles, couriers, and semi-trailers, trucks, and recreational vehicles.
It was further part of the conspiracy that the defendants and co-conspirators would utilize various locations throughout Hampton Roads to possess and prepare for distribution heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and cocaine base, and to meet and discuss previous and future narcotics transactions. These various locations include houses and parking lots of businesses located in Newport News, Hampton, Suffolk, Carrolton, Yorktown, Lawrenceville, South Hill, and Richmond.
According to the indictment, throughout the life of the drug trafficking ring, the co-conspirators used at least 94 different telecommunication devices such as pre-paid cell phones, Facebook, and encrypted communications apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp to conduct the day-to-day operations, including negotiating prices, and arranging locations for purchasing and selling the drugs. Some of co-conspirators changed devices on a regular basis in an effort to thwart law enforcement surveillance. Typically, the cell phone numbers that were used were in pre-paid cell phones that did not need a subscriber’s name.
The 106-count indictment alleges various offenses, including conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, cocaine base, and fentanyl; conspiracy to launder money; felon in possession of a firearm; maintaining a drug-involved premises; use of a communication facility in furtherance of drug trafficking; interstate travel in aid of racketeering enterprises; and illegal re-entry by a previously deported or removed alien.
The case was investigated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), Operation Cookout. The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.