Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Following massive drug bust, DA warns dealers: ‘We’re fighting a war on you’

Wilmington police say it was biggest methamphetamine bust in department history

District attorney Ben David and police chief Donny Williams host a press conference at the Wilmington Police Department Friday to announce WPD’s largest meth bust and actions that will be taken to prosecute moving forward. (Screenshot Port City Daliy)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A months-long investigation with local and federal agencies has concluded with the removal of half-a-million dollars worth of drugs from the streets of southeastern North Carolina.

It’s the largest methamphetamine bust the Wilmington Police Department, which led the operation, has made in the organization’s history, Chief Donny Williams told the media Friday. 

The WPD hosted a press conference with District Attorney Ben David and the DEA’s supervisory special agent Mike Freeman at the downtown police station. They did not take questions from local journalists, citing ongoing investigations.

Recovered from the bust was $500,000 in street value of methamphetamine and $45,000 worth of cocaine, in addition to $13,000 in cash. Teams confiscated more than 4,322 grams of methamphetamine and over 744 grams of cocaine.  

Officers arrested 26-year-old Marcos Montel Lopez of Wilmington and 31-year-old Bianca Leon Perez of Burgaw. The defendants are being held at New Hanover County Detention Center with a combined bond of $10 million (see all charges below).

“As I’ve said before, community engagement is very important to WPD,” Williams said, “but law enforcement is our primary function. These arrests show just that … and also demonstrates our regional teamwork, partnerships and commitment to making all of our communities safer.”

The SWAT unit from the Cape Fear Regional Special Teams was instrumental in executing the warrant, he added. That includes police departments in Burgaw, Carolina Beach, and Leland, the Pender County Sheriff’s Office, UNCW police, Southeastern NC Air-Borne Law Enforcement, and Wilmington Fire Department and Leland Fire and Rescue.

Over a half-million dollars in drugs were confiscated as part of the multi-agency bust, led by the WPD. (Courtesy WPD)

As the district attorney took the mic, bags of drugs and cash were splayed in front of the lectern.

“What you’re looking at is a return on investment,” David said. 

The New Hanover County Board of Commission funded a prosecutor from the DA’s office to work in the Eastern District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, David said at the briefing.

According to county spokesperson Alex Riley, the county put $100,000 per year in 2019 and 2020 toward the position.

“[It] has been continued with slight increases to reflect cost-of-living increases,” Riley added. 

The position was budgeted in 2021 at $106,873 and $108,850 in fiscal year 2022. For fiscal year 2023, it rose by almost $10,000 to $117,105. 

The DA also created a satellite office staffed with prosecutors to work full time on federal cases regionally, which David said it never had before.

“Having prosecutors who straddle the state and federal systems allow for a coordinated approach to investigating and prosecuting crime, and ensuring that those who break the law are held accountable for their actions,” assistant district attorney Samantha Dooies told Port City Daily Friday.

David noted they’re doing more than going after street-level crime; they’re bringing down dealers who are “peddling poison for profit.” The drugs that were impounded in the WPD meth case are not made in the area, rather come from across “porous borders hundreds of miles from here,” David said. The goal from responding agencies is to pinpoint the source.

“Our chief understands that the things that impact Wilmington start somewhere else, and we need to go meet that threat wherever it is, and send a clear message to cartels, wherever they may be, that coming to Wilmington is bad for business,” David said.

He called police officers “the ultimate violence disruptors” to bring down crime. Million-dollar and multi-million-dollar bonds will be the norm for seizures of this caliber, he assured.

“We’re not fighting a war on drugs, we’re fighting a war on you,” he warned. 

Criminals would be prosecuted to receive maximum justice, David said, indicating they would go into a federal system where there won’t be bonds —  “because they don’t have them.”

26-year-old Marcos Montel Lopez of Wilmington and 31-year-old Bianca Leon Perez of Burgaw are being held at the NHC Detention Center with a combined $10 million bond. (Courtesy WPD)

Montiel-Lopez was charged with:

  • Trafficking Cocaine by Possession
  • Trafficking Cocaine by Manufacture
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine by Possession
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine by Manufacture
  • PWISD Cocaine
  • PWISD Methamphetamine
  • Manufacture/Sell/Deliver/Possession of a Controlled Substance W/N 1000 FT. of School
  • Manufacture/Sell/Deliver/Possession of a Controlled Substance W/N 1000 FT. of Park
  • Two counts of Resist/Delay/Obstruct 

Leon-Perez was charged with: 

  • Trafficking Cocaine by Possession
  • Trafficking Cocaine by Manufacture
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine by Possession
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine by Manufacture
  • PWISD Cocaine
  • PWISD Methamphetamine
  • Manufacture/Sell/Deliver/Possession of a Controlled Substance W/N 1000 FT. of School
  • Manufacture/Sell/Deliver/Possession of a Controlled Substance W/N 1000 FT. of Park. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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