Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Cape Fear Bust: 20 arrests, 50 weapons, 10,000 grams of narcotics

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District N.C. Michael Easley announces at the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office the arrest of 20 defendants in connection with firearm and drug-related charges. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Almost two dozen individuals were arrested on drug trafficking and firearm-related charges. According to officials close to the matter, two suspects remain at large, though this is just the tipping point of a larger investigation.

“This isn’t the end,” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) special agent Brian Mein said at a Monday press conference at the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. “[F]or anyone watching, there’s one thing I want you to take away: We’re not done.”

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDEF) operation has been overseeing the investigation. Formed in 1982 as a division of the Department of Justice, OCDEF utilizes a multi-agency approach to combat illicit narcotics and transnational organized crime.

The task force coordinated a strategy between federal, state and local agencies, including the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, which took the local lead with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Marshals Service, and N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). Also involved were New Hanover, Bladen and Duplin sheriff’s offices, the Wilmington, Jacksonville, and Goldsboro police departments, as well as agents from South Carolina.

Around 20 individuals were arrested last week, spanning five counties. Eighteen of the defendants are residents of the Cape Fear region, including 10 from Wilmington, two from Leland and one from Navassa.

A grand jury in the eastern district of N.C. indicted 19 of the defendants and one has been charged by a criminal complaint by the U.S. magistrate judge. All await arraignment as the investigation continues.

“We are here today with one message,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of N.C. Michael Easley said at the press conference. “We are united in our partnership to safeguard our communities in southeast North Carolina. We will absolutely find and prosecute those trafficking drugs, carrying guns and making life harder on hardworking law-abiding citizens.”

Law enforcement seized more than 50 firearms, 10,000 grams of methamphetamine, 1,600 grams of cocaine and close to 300 grams of heroin, according to Mein.

“This is not merely a drug and gun case,” he said. “It goes deeper than that. We want to continue to investigate those firearms and figure out where they came from and how they got into our community.”

ATF agents use a crime-gun intelligence strategy, which essentially traces the life of a weapon.

“We want to know the source, how they got here and who’s responsible,” Mein added.

Agencies also utilized technology, known as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), so law enforcement can compare firearm ballistic evidence cross-jurisdictionally in the region and nationally. It helps determine if there are connections with other local shootings or crime.

“This case will have a huge impact in this area,” Mein said.

Easley explained the Cape Fear region is a hot zone for drug and gun trafficking because of its access to major highways, such as I-95, which runs up and down the East Coast, and I-40, reaching to the West Coast.

“North Carolina is the southern tip of what has been called the Iron Pipeline, where guns are acquired and make their way up our highway system into major metropolitan areas of D.C., New York, Pittsburg and elsewhere,” Easley said. “It’s not unusual for guns acquired in North Carolina, or stolen in North Carolina, to make their way up the coast.”

Among the seized weapons were semi-automatic handguns, AR-style rifles and an auto-sear device, used to convert a semi-automatic into a fully automatic machine gun. Also confiscated was a “ghost gun,” a weapon assembled at home with parts bought online. Ghost guns also do not carry serial numbers, making tracking their use difficult, Easley detailed.

“They also can pose opportunities for folks to acquire firearms who should be barred from possessing them through avoiding the background check,” he said.

U.S. Marshal Michael East arranged the apprehension of the defendants. East said two people are still at large and are being actively pursued across the country.

Of the 20 defendants,

  • 18 face a total of 52 total federal drug charges combined among them, including the distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and other drugs.
  • 9 have prior felony convictions and have been charged with unlawful possession of firearms
  • 11 face a total of 28 gun-related charges
  • 4 allegedly possessed guns in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes

Easley would not comment on any connection among the defendants or specific evidence, due to the case being an ongoing investigation. He added each that’s solved typically leads to a new case to be followed, with the top priority being to disrupt criminal organizations before they escalate.

“Our objective at the U.S. attorney’s office is to continue to push further up the chain in the organizations where we find them and try to dismantle those organizations,” Easley said.

The Southeast Violent Crime Task Force — composed of the Wilmington Police Department, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Goldsboro Police Department, Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville Police Department and the SBI — is continuing to pursue similar investigations to deter crime in eastern N.C.

“Keeping guns out of the hands of drug traffickers and felons is a key part of protecting public safety,” Easley said. “But driving down the crime rate is the ultimate goal.”

“I hope this operation sends a strong message to those who seek to conduct criminal activity within Brunswick County, especially those involved with violent crime and drug trafficking,” Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram added. “[W]e’re not going to stop. We’re going to use every resource at our disposal to ensure they’re held accountable for their actions.”

Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram applauds the work of local deputies for assisting with the arrests of 20 individuals. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

The following individuals were charged by way of criminal indictment or criminal complaint:

  • Jiani Tomaz Alston, 26, of Raleigh, N.C.: Conspiracy to Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possess With the Intent to Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; and Aiding and Abetting
  • Demetrius Sonaz Alston, Jr., 25, of Charlotte, N.C.: Conspiracy to Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possess With the Intent to Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; and Aiding and Abetting
  • Kenneth Brown, 40, of Wilmington, N.C.: Conspiracy to Possess With the Intent to Distribute 28 Grams or More of Cocaine Base (Crack); Distribute a Quantity of Cocaine Base (Crack); Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition by a Convicted Felon
  • Massimo Campana, 30, of Wilmington, N.C.: Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime
  • Kawshie Chapman, 48, of Wilmington, N.C.: Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with the Intent to Distribute 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Cocaine; Possession of a Firearm by Convicted Felon; Receiving and Possessing a Short-Barreled Rifle
  • Ronesha Greene-McNeil, 35, of Leland, N.C.: Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with the Intent to Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine and Cocaine; Distribute 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine
  • David Hedge, 21, of Wilmington, N.C.: Distribution of a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine and Quantity of Cocaine; Distribution of a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; Distribution of 5 Grams or More of Actual Methamphetamine
  • Anthony Jackson, 31, of Wilmington, N.C.: Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine
  • Naulege Johnson, 23, of Wilmington, N.C.: Distribution of a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribution of 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine
  • Shamar Keaton, 32, of Riegelwood, N.C.: Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine
  • Devonte Lewis, 26, of Navassa, N.C.: Distribution of a Quantity of Cocaine Base (Crack); Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; Felon in Possession of a Firearm; Distribution of a Quantity of Marijuana; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; Possession of a Machine Gun; Distribution of a Quantity of Cocaine Base (Crack)
  • Juan Martinez, 22, of Wilmington, N.C.: Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
  • Erving Muse, 39, of Wilmington, N.C.: Distribute a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; Distribute 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
  • Dwayne Nixon, 46, Wilmington, N.C.: Distribute a Quantity of Cocaine
  • David Pigford, 36, of Clinton, N.C.: Conspiracy to Possess with the Intent to Distribute and Distribute 500 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine
  • Ernest Robinson, 34, of Currie, N.C.: Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
  • Rodna Robinson, 34, of Currie, N.C.: Distribute a Quantity of Cocaine; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; Distribute a Quantity of Cocaine Base (Crack); Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime
  • Anthony Smith, 39, of Clarkton, N.C.: Conspiracy to Distribute 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute Fifty 50 Grams or More of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; and Aiding and Abetting
  • Tyquawn Washington, 28, of Wilmington, N.C.: Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Heroin
  • Oscar Williams, 38, of Leland, N.C.: Conspiracy to Distribute a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; and Aiding and Abetting; Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Methamphetamine; Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Heroin; Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; Distribute a Quantity of a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Heroin

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