Sunday, June 26, 2022

So far, Federal court has sentenced 14 Wilmington drug traffickers in investigation targeting United Blood Nation

March for our Lives organizers expect at least a 1,000 participants to congregate at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Wilmington on Saturday, March 24. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
To date, 14 of 19 defendants in a federal drug trafficking case have been sentenced. (Port City Daily photo file)

WILMINGTON — Fourteen members of a ‘large-scale’ heroin trafficking organization were sentenced over the last few months, the culmination of a joint task force known as ‘Operation Dodgeball,’ aimed at preventing criminals from ‘dodging’ long prison sentences by bringing local cases to federal court.

A total of 19 defendants have been convicted, and so far 14 have been sentenced to between 2 and 23 years in federal prison.

The investigation began in 2018 and targeted associates of the United Blood Nation as part of an Organized Crime Enforcement Task Force including the FBI, ATF, state and local law enforcement. Task Force is part of the Department of Justice’s Take Back North Carolina Initiative, which helps local law enforcement utilize federal resources to target drug trafficking and other drug-related issues. The Initiative includes automatic sentences — 5 years for carrying a gun during a drug-related crime, 10 years for discharging a firearm — priority prosecution for assaults on law enforcement officers, and a short two-week ‘plea window’ to prevent the backlogs that often plague local courts.

According to United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr., the task force was able to “break the back” of a Wilmington heroin trafficking organization, including arresting and convicting a gang member in a “significant leadership role.” The gang, affiliated with the United Blood Nation, had been “terrorizing” Wilmington as was responsible for both heroin trafficking and violent crimes in and around the Wilmington area, according to Higdon.

Joint investigation

The investigation began in 2018; FBI, ATF, North Carolina State Buruea of Investigation, Wilmington Police Department, and New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office personnel conducted surveillance, traffic stops, and controlled purchases of heroin and “a heroin/fentanyl” mixture from gang members between April and August of that year.

The FBI also obtained authorization for a federal wiretap on the cellphone of Gary Hines, 26, who was believed to be in a leadership role. Intercepted calls from Hines’ phone, the FBI and local law enforcement were able to obtain a search warrant for a residence on North 5th Avenue, on the edge of downtown Wilmington; a subsequent raid located heroin and firearms. Hines and Antwine Lucas, 37, another gang member, were arrested following the search.

Over the next several months, federal and local law enforcement continued to make arrests, leading to 19 successful federal cases (and 14 sentencings, so far). According to law enforcement, the organization imported more than 5 kilograms of heroin and a heroin/fentanyl mixture into the Wilmington area. Ballistic testing of 11 seized firearms revealed some of the weapons had been used in previous violent crimes.

Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Severo prosecuted this case on behalf of the government. Five remaining defendants are expected to be sentenced in the coming months.

The defendants already sentenced include:

GARRY HINES, aka “Rachet,” 26, of Wilmington, NC.  HINES pled guilty to three counts of distribution of a quantity of heroin.  HINES was sentenced to 276 months’ imprisonment.

·         ANTWINE LUCAS, aka “Big World,” 37, of Wilmington, NC. LUCAS pled guilty to conspiracy to possession with intent to distribute and distribute a quantity of heroin and distribution of a quantity of heroin.  LUCAS was sentenced to 188 months’ imprisonment.

·         ANTONIO FOSTER, 30, of Wilmington, NC.  FOSTER pled guilty to distribution of heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin.  FOSTER was sentenced to 156 months’ imprisonment.

·         SAVON HARDAWAY, 24, of Wilmington, NC.  HARDAWAY pled guilty to three counts of distribution of a quantity of heroin and possession of a firearm by felon. HARDAWAY was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment.

·         ANDRE HALL, 32, of Wilmington, NC.  HALL pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin.  HALL was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment.

·         JOSHUA WRIGHT, 26, of Wilmington, NC. WRIGHT pled guilty to distribution of a quantity of heroin.  WRIGHT was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment.

·          JAQUARIES WASHINGTON, 20, of Wilmington NC. WASHINGTON pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin.  WASHINGTON was sentenced to 132 months’ imprisonment.

·         TAVEON NIXON, 21, of Wilmington, NC. NIXON pled guilty to three counts of distribution of a quantity of heroin and possession with intent toa quantity of heroin and crack cocaine. NIXON was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment.

·         JACQUEZ HILL, 21 of Wilmington NC. HILL pled guilty to conspiracy to distribution of a quantity of heroin, distribution of heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin.  HILL was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment.

·         MARCUS BERRY, 29, of Wilmington, NC.  BERRY pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, distribution of a quantity of heroin and possession with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. BERRY was sentenced to 48 months’ imprisonment.

·         RAQUEL ADAMS, 22, of Wilmington, NC. ADAMS pled guilty to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin.  ADAMS was sentenced to 37 months’ imprisonment

·         ALICIA JOHNSON, 22, of Wilmington, NC. JOHNSON pled guilty to distribution of a quantity of heroin. JOHNSON was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment

·         KEVIN FREEMAN, aka “Glocky,” 24, of Wilmington, NC. FREEMAN pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and distribution of a quantity of heroin.  FREEMAN was sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment.

·         BARRY PIERCE, 23, of Wilmington, NC. PIERCE pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  PIERCE was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment.

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