Arrests made in drug busts with international ties in Pickens

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drug bust

A single, anonymous tip led to local, state, and federal authorities to confiscating 137 kilograms of methamphetamine valued at more than $1-million, and charges brought against 47 people, several from Pickens County, including the drug broker in the middle of it.

As a result of a 9-month investigation known as “Operation The Real McCoy,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad (CMANS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) served 47 arrest warrants for multiple charges including gang and drug related offenses.

“This is the largest bust I can recall,” said Pickens County Sheriff, Donny Craig.

drug bust

More than $1-million in meth were confiscated during the multi-agency “The Real McCoy” operation. A Pickens County man is charged with brokering the drugs between Mexican gangs and street level dealers.

In September 2019, Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad (CMANS) agents began an investigation into a supply chain of methamphetamine into Cherokee County.  The initial investigations led CMANS agents to DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and members of the Ghostface Gangsters.

Phil Price of CMANS, which serves Pickens and Cherokee counties, said they discovered the trafficking was originating in Dekalb and Gwinnett counties and upon learning many of those involved were gang members, they partnered with the state agency’s Gang Task Force.

John Melvin, Assistant Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, named 20 agencies involved in the investigation, which is still on-going.

It’s critical that the agencies work together, said Robert Hammer, Deputy Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta office.

“The investigation originally started into Ghost Face Killers and Gangster Disciples and as the investigation progressed, we were able to expand the network and see the Mexican affiliated gangs such as Sureños 13,” said Hammer.

With American-based gangs working cooperatively with Mexican gangs to bring drugs in and sell them, law enforcement has to pool their resources in order to combat them, he said.

“As gangs merge, we need to merge our gangs as well,” said Hammer.

Craig said his office has only been involved with CMANS for a year, but this investigation alone has proven it’s a good partnership.

“I feel like we’ve made a big dent, not just in Pickens County, but all of North Georgia,” said Craig.

Based on the initial investigation, CMANS, the GBI Gang Task Force, and HSI conducted an intensive investigation into the drug trafficking and distribution organization involving Brannon McCoy, age 26, Michael  Hazelwood, age 45, and Tricia Setser, age 38, who are traffickers of methamphetamine operating within numerous counties in Georgia including Sumter, Effingham, Fulton, Clayton, DeKalb, Cobb, Cherokee, Gilmer, and Pickens.  The investigation revealed a network involving members of the Ghostface Gangsters, the Gangster Disciples, and the Sureños.

McCoy acted as a broker from inside the State Prison Camp in Sumter County between drug traffickers in Mexico and the street level dealers in Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The name of the operation became known as “The Real McCoy.” Investigators were able to monitor McCoy and from there, identify sources of supply, leading to some of the day’s arrests.

Price said McCoy was one of the main players and is from Pickens County. “His family is here. We followed  the trail of money through here and also several people involved are also from Pickens County.”

The case will be tried in Pickens County and is a case District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee is looking forward to trying.

drug bust

The Pickens County Sheriff’s Department, working with CMANS, GBI, and Homeland Security charged 47 people, several from Pickens County, with trafficking meth.

“(It will require) a lot work to get the case prepared and ready for trial,” said Sosebee. “(The agencies) have worked very well together with our office, so we are looking forward to proceeding with the case from a prosecution standpoint.”

Craig said that while the bust is monumental, it is still on-going.

Agencies involved in the investigation were the CMANS, the GBI Gang Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Pickens Sheriff’s Office, Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Department of Corrections, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Barrow Sheriff’s Office, the Gordon County Drug Task Force, Gwinnett Gang Task Force and Special Investigation Section, DeKalb District Attorney’s Office, the Cobb PD and District Attorney’s Office, the Clayton SO and District Attorney’s Office, the Apex Unit from Atlanta PD, the West Metro Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office.

The GBI Gang Task Force is made up of GBI Agents, task force agents from the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, the Atlanta Police Department, the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force and the United States Department of Homeland Security/Homeland Security Investigations.

The Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad is a joint task force working in Cherokee County and Pickens County to investigate drug related violations. Participating agencies include the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, the Pickens Sheriff’s Office, the Canton Police Department, the Woodstock Police Department, the Holly Springs Police Department, the Ball Ground Police Department, the Cherokee County Marshal’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office for the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit, the District Attorney’s Office for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit and the Georgia State Patrol. Citizens may call in tips anonymously to (770) 345-7920 or may speak to an agent by calling (678) 493-7625.

 

Arrests

The following individuals were arrested on June 24, 2020:

  1. Erik Noe Fuentes Escobar, 26, charged in Barrow County, GA with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
  2. Kevin Vega-Santana, 18, charged with trafficking methamphetamine in Fulton County, GA.
  3. Artemio Maldonado Santana, 28, charged with trafficking methamphetamine in Fulton County, GA.
  4. Elvis Maldonado-Santana, 21, charged with trafficking methamphetamine in Fulton County, GA.
  5. Buford Smith, 68, charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in Pickens County, GA.
  6. Leah Thompson, 31, charged with possession of methamphetamine in Pickens County, GA.
  7. Joseph Arp, 50, charged with possession of methamphetamine in Pickens County, GA.
  8. Wendy Kirby, 44, charged with obstruction in Pickens County, GA.
  9. Tracy Kirby, 42, charged with obstruction in Pickens County, GA.
  10. William Ryder, 45 charged with obstruction in Pickens County, GA.
  11. Ashley Foster, 31, charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of a Schedule IV substance in Pickens County, GA.
  12. Christopher Mountain 47, charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of a Schedule IV substance in Pickens County, GA.
  13. Marjorie Brown, 61, charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in Pickens County, GA.

The following were charged with Violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in Pickens County as part of “Operation The Real McCoy” and were already in custody or a fugitive:

  1. Tanner Burnell, 31, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  2. Donnie Chastain, 47, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  3. Cindy McCoy-Wilson, 49, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  4. Christopher Morris, 34, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  5. Allyson Moyer, 41, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  6. Jesse Rodriguez, 22, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  7. David Skinner, 46, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  8. Amanda Vliek, 37, currently in custody at the Pickens County Jail
  9. Brandon Sanchez Laney, 32, also charged with Violation of Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Act, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  10. Tyler Morris, 28, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  11. Carl Welchel, 49, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  12. Tricia Setser, 38, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  13. Casey Plumb, 31, currently in custody at the Cherokee County Jail
  14. Michael Hazelwood, 45, currently in custody at Cherokee County Jail
  15. Josh Phillips, 23, currently in custody at the Gwinnett County Jail
  16. Josh David Collins, 37, currently in custody of GDC
  17. William Jamie Fields, 27, currently in custody of GDC
  18. Brannon Chase McCoy, 26, currently in custody of GDC
  19. Terrell Jamar Owens, 38, currently in custody of GDC
  20. Bryan Thomas Pitt, 36, currently in custody of GDC
  21. Kevin Rodriguez, 24, currently in custody of GDC
  22. Joseph Seaborn III, 47, currently in custody of GDC
  23. Dewane Cook, 46, currently in custody in Monroe County, TN
  24. Orvelin Garcia Penaloza, 25, currently a fugitive from justice
  25. Evan Dannny Taylor Yancey, currently a fugitive from justice
  26. Dillon Thompson, 40, currently a fugitive from justice
  27. Savannah Newton, 22, currently a fugitive from justice
  28. Tracey Shirley, 47, currently a fugitive from justice
  29. Brittany Owen, 41, also charged with Violation of Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Act, currently a fugitive from justice
  30. Dennis Debord, 39, currently a fugitive from justice
  31. Jessica Darby, 33, currently a fugitive from justice
  32. Derick Barker, 35, currently a fugitive from justice
  33. Justin Barker, 31, currently a fugitive from justice
  34. Mindy Skelton, 38, currently a fugitive from justice

 

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Read the Pickens County Jail bookings here.

Transcript of Press Conference

Phil Price of the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad, serving Cherokee and Pickens County. In  September 2019, we got information that led us into an investigation into methamphetamine trafficking that was taking place in Cherokee and Pickens County. It was originating in Dekalb and Gwinnett counties. As we began to conduct the investigation, we determined that a majority of the people involved were members of gangs here in Georgia. So we partnered with the the GBI’s task force to further this investigation and I’ll turn this over to the GBI.

John Melvin, Assistant Director of the GBI, I’d like to thank you for being here for this wonderful, memorial event.With over 70,000 gang  members state-wide, it is essential that in order to fight this occupation of gang members that we have cooperation between the many agencies. In that regard I need to take time to thank the many agencies that have brought us here today for this drug and gang bust. The following agencies assisted us: the CMANS unit, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Gang Task Force, Homeland Security investigations, the Applachian Judicial Circuit whose district attorneys  will take this case to trial. Thank you. the Pickens County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Corrections, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, Bartow County Sheriff’s office, Gordon County Task Force, Gwinnett County Task Force, the Special Investigations Section of the Gwinnett County Gang Task Force, the Dekalb County District Attorney’s office, the Cobb County Police Department, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, Clayton County District Attorney’s office, the APEX Unit of hte Atlanta Police Department, the West Metro Drug Enforcement Office, the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Georgia National Guard, as well as the Drug Task Force of the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Department. All of these agencies in their way, helped us with this investigation and today, we’re happy to announce 137 kilos of methamphetamine are off the streets, taken us part of the multi-jurisdiction cooperative effort to take down members of our Ghost Face Gang that is in this state, as well Gangster Disciples. The gangs are cooperating but so are the agencies that stand against this evil. Those agencies that have helped us out and hte agents that are on the street,  from the bottom of my heart, thank you and God bless you.

Robert Hammer, special agent with HSI investigations in Atlanta: I just want to commend the Sheriff of Pickens County and all the agencies that John mentioned on GBI’s behalf. When I committed to the director a year ago that we wanted to partner with GBI on the governor’s gang task force, this was exactly the type of partnership I envisioned and this is a great result for this task force. It’s one of the largest for the task force and there are certainly more to come. From our aspect on the federal side of these investigations, our focus is on the transnational side.  We look to add value to and support these local partners in being successful. We’re looking at multiple gangs collaborating to import these narcotics into the region. specifically Surenos working with Ghost Face and Gangster Disciples. Mexico continues to be a major source of supply of methamphetamine  in the Metro Atlanta area and certainly here in Pickens Counthy. The scourge that drugs and the gang cause this community is no more prevalent today than over 130 kilos of meth off the streets as well as multiple firearms. We’re proud to work with GBI and the governor’s gang task force and to more contributions.

Phil Price: the initial investigation was just a tip that we got and as we investigated, we saw so many people who were interacting with the suspects that we had. We also developed information about the gang aspect and at that time it was on Ghost Face gangsters. We got the GBI gang task force involved, started doing very intensive surveillance, watching these people for long periods of time and learned in fact there were three different gangs. Thanks to the GBI gang task force, we were able to further this investigation into areas we were not well versed in. This investigation was initiated just before COVID became a problem and we had to deal with all those secondary issues, how we interacted with other people. A very complex investigation, a very intense investigation. I think everyone here tonight can go home and rest better.

drug bust

Christopher Scott Morris, 34, Jasper, Georgia

drug bust

Cindy Marie McCoy, 49,
Jasper, Georgia

drug bust

David Robert Skinner, 46,
Canton, Georgia

drug bust

Tanner Evin Burnell, 35,
Ellijay, Georgia

drug bust

Donnie Lee Chastain, 47,
Talking Rock, Georgia

Amanda Vliek, 37,
Kennesaw, Georgia

Marjorie Sue Brown, 62,
Talking Rock, Georgia

Ashley Elizabeth Foster, 31,
Talking Rock, Georgia

Tracey Rena Kirby, 46,
Jasper, Georgia

drug bust

Wendy Elisha Kirby, 44,
Jasper, Georgia

drug bust

Jesse Rodriguez, 22,
Austell, Georgia

 

 

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