Oxycodone Pills, $2.5 Million Cash, Plus Much More
BY BILL GRUBB, THE ROGERSVILLE REVIEW
ROGERSVILLE -- Calling it a "huge" drug bust, United States Attorney William Killian, of the Eastern District of Tennessee, used a Rogersville news conference Wednesday to discuss details of a multi-county, multi-agency investigation that resulted in 32 guilty pleas and took millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs off the streets.
Killian, speaking alongside other law enforcement officials at the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department, said the four-year-long "substantial cocaine, marijuana and oxycodone pill conspiracy case" involved 32 individuals.
Most of the defendants are from Greene, Hawkins and Sullivan counties, in addition to others from North Carolina and Georgia, Killian said. Two other defendants are considered fugitives.
10 FROM GREENE COUNTY
The 32 defendants all pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges relating to cocaine, marijuana, and oxycodone trafficking, Killian said.
Greene County defendants in the case include: Jessica R. Bernard, 23, of Greeneville; Cody A. Arnold, 27, of Greeneville; Joyce L. Malone, 35, of Greeneville; Christopher L. Tipton, 30, of Afton; Abbey M. Armstrong, 28, of Greeneville; Amanda D. Bernard, 23, of Greeneville; Christy R. Seay, 39, of Greeneville; and Marvin Neal Southerland, 34, of Greeneville.
Two defendants are from Limestone: Randal Michael Lawson, 57, and Kenneth A. Lawson, 45.
Authorities said the investigation began in 2009 and targeted individuals who were allegedly trafficking in large quantities of Mexican cocaine and marijuana, supplied by a "drug-trafficking organization" in North Carolina.
In addition, authorities were made aware that individuals in Tennessee were distributing large quantities of oxycodone pills obtained from Nevada and Georgia.
Authorities said that in 2010, defendant Charles T. Laing, 30, of Boynton Beach, Fla., and others opened The Liberty Wellness Pain Clinic in Norcross, Ga., near Atlanta, and began using the clinic to obtain oxycodone for distribution in East Tennessee.
The clinic was raided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in April 2012, and closed its doors.
QUANTITY OF DRUGS SEIZED
"Collectively seized, or proven as part of the conspiracy, were over 300 pounds of cocaine, over 16,000 pounds of marijuana and over 21,000 oxycodone pills; some firearms and $2.5 million in cash was confiscated," Killian stated at the news conference.
"Any time we can catch and convict such a large and armed cocaine, marijuana and oxycodone pill conspiracy and confiscate millions of dollars of drug money, then Hawkins, Sullivan and Greene County residents and other parts of East Tennessee are safer," Killian said.
The arrests, and subsequent pleas, were based on the work of a multitude of agencies, Killian said, including the Greene, Hawkins and Sullivan County Sheriff's Departments, the Second Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Third Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Kingsport Police Department, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and DEA.
LOCAL DEPUTY PRAISED
"On behalf of the United States of America, I want to thank the law enforcement agencies represented here today for their collective accomplishments for the citizens of East Tennessee.
" I particularly want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Caryn Hebets who prosecuted these cases and continues with the ongoing investigation," Killian added.
Killian also gave credit to specific local officers for their involvement in the investigation, including sheriff's Deputy Chuck Humphreys of Greene County.
"I am very proud of this multi-agency investigation, which has made a large impact on the drug problem in this region," Greene County Sheriff Steve Burns said.
Killian described oxycodone as "basically synthetic heroin."
"It's extremely addictive. When we talk about 20,000 pills, you're talking about a lot of addiction that could affect a lot of people," the U.S. attorney said, adding that breaking up the operation was "as good as it gets in law enforcement."
Although Killian said the cash value of the drugs seized had not been calculated, he did note the total value was more than the $2.5 million in cash confiscated.
Killian said the individuals were all connected "with one common purpose -- that was to distribute illegal drugs."
"This was a major dent in the drug problem. That's a lot of cocaine. That's a lot of marijuana. That's a lot of oxycodone pills," the U.S. attorney said, noting that the investigation is ongoing.
The defendants await sentencing in Greeneville before Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan and U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer.
Other defendants include Laing; William A. Lawson, 66, of Rogersville; James Light, 64, of Rogersville; Tia L. Lawson, 40, of Kingsport; Elia Maria Camacho Garcia, 30, of Burlington, N.C.; Brock A. Lawson, 26, of Rogersville; Jeffrey M. Bledsoe, 31, of Kingsport; Jessica L. Lawson, 32, of Bristol; Jackie D. Dykes, 48, of Rogersville; Michael L. Dykes, 51, of Rogersville; and Lorne L. Loucel, 32, of Rogersville.
Also, Lisa A. Crawford, 37, of Rogersville; Virginia D. Light, 49, of Rogersville; Asa Kermit M. Calhoun, 33, of Rogersville; Steve A. Gooch, 29, of Rogersville; Jonathan L. Light, 24, of Kingsport; Jeremy R. Light, 28, of Rogersville; Michael B. Dykes, 30, of Rogersville; Daniel L. Dykes, 29, of Rogersville; Christy D. Dykes, 32, of Rogersville; Levi D. Love, 24, of Kingsport; and Shandeeda M. Compton, 31, of Rogersville.
In addition to the drug distribution charges, authorities said several individuals, including William A. Lawson, Randall Michael Lawson, Elia Maria Camacho Garcia, and Charles T. Laing, also pleaded guilty to conspiracies to launder money.
William A. Lawson and Randall Michael Lawson also pleaded guilty to Social Security fraud.
Charles T. Laing and Jeffrey M. Bledsoe also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of the drug-trafficking offenses.
William A. Lawson, Kenneth A. Lawson, Tia L. Lawson, Brock A. Lawson, and Jessica L. Lawson each face mandatory terms of 10 years in prison, maximum fines of $10 million and at least five years supervised release upon release from prison.
James Light, Elia Maria Camacho Garcia, and Jeffrey M. Bledsoe each face mandatory terms of five years in prison, maximum fines of $5 million, and at least four years supervised release upon release from prison.
The remaining individuals each face maximum terms of 20 years in prison, maximum fines of $1 million, and at least three years of supervised release upon release from prison, Killian said.
Laing and Bledsoe both face consecutive terms of five years in prison in connection with the firearms charges. All also face mandatory court assessments.