Drug sweep leads to 76 arrests in area

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A major law enforcement operation targeting drug trafficking in and around Cherokee has resulted in the arrests of more than 75 people on federal, state and tribal charges, announced Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke and Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, in a press conference held in Asheville on Thursday, Sept. 27.

The undercover operation was led by the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Opioid Reduction Task Force, in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Cherokee Indian Police Department, Swain County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The investigation began in March and aimed at disrupting and dismantling drug distribution networks operating in and around the Qualla Boundary. 

In addition to the 76 arrests announced, a concurrent two-year investigation spearheaded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Division of Drug Enforcement and the DEA led to the previous arrest of 56 additional individuals responsible for trafficking opiates and methamphetamine in Indian Country, bringing the total number of those arrested to 132.

To date, the joint investigations have yielded a seizure of more than 3.8 pounds of heroin and Fentanyl; more than 18 pounds of methamphetamine; over 270 Fentanyl and Oxycodone tablets; and more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, with a combined street value of over $1.82 million. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement also seized five illegally possessed firearms.

“First and foremost, Bravo Zulu to the dozens of law enforcement professionals who are on the front lines and putting their own lives at risk to take these deadly drugs off the streets. President Trump and I could not be prouder of their work,” said Secretary Zinke. “It’s heartbreaking to see the scale of the problem, and rather than further stigmatizing victims, we are cracking down on the dealers who are selling out our children, selling out our communities, and selling out our nation. The Trump Administration is serious about ending the opioid crisis and that means both treatment of those suffering as well as eradicating the drugs from our communities. This week’s law enforcement action gets us closer to that goal.”

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a community that has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic. Drug distribution, drug-fueled crimes, and drug abuse pose a grave threat to the safety, stability, cultural preservation, and well-being of the tribal community,” said U.S. Attorney Murray.  “The Justice Department and my office are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to stem the flow of drugs onto the Qualla Boundary, and to reduce the opioid abuse epidemic that has devastated Indian Country.”

“Dangerous and deadly drugs, both licit and illicit, see no boundaries,” said Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division.  “If the drugs are destined for the inner city, rural suburbia or Indian Country, regardless, the outcome is the same: they destroy dreams, communities, families and lives. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians community, and adjoining areas elsewhere, have felt the sting of drug abuse and addiction. DEA, its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to making our communities safer by removing those who push these deadly substances. This investigation was a huge success because of the spirited efforts between DEA, its federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and state and tribal prosecutors.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of the Interior, the BIA and the multiple state and local agencies who helped make this operation a success.  The arrest of these drug dealers is a critical step towards ensuring that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is able to provide the healthy environment our people deserve.” Principal Chief Richard Sneed.   

“I am proud of the men and women of the Swain County Sheriff's Office and the working relationships that we all have with our neighboring counties and all the local, tribal, state and federal agencies across North Carolina and other states as well,” said Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran. “Without those relationships, an operation like the one that was conducted last week would not be possible. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to clean as many drug dealers out of Western North Carolina as possible. This operation is not over, but will continue as long as drugs are being sold in our communities.”

The following 12 individuals face federal drug offenses: 

Dontavius Juan Cox, 26, of Sylva, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of acetyl fentanyl

Derek Wilson Driver, 26, of Cherokee, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of acetyl fentanyl

David Charles Fisher, 56, of Bryson City, two counts possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Timothy Mark Grady, 43, Bryson City, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Kandace Rhean Griffin, 29, of Cherokee, two counts possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance that is Oxycodone, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin

Kenneth Dean Griffin, 51, Cherokee, three counts possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Kevin Dewayne Huskey, 47, of Bryson City, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Saryna Michelle Miller, 22, of Bryson City, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Jeremy Dwayne Morton, 21, of Bryson City, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Javier Fernando Perez, 27, of Norcross, Georgia, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of acetyl fentanyl, possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

David William Smith, 30, of Sylva, two counts possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine

Dee Anna Wike, 45, of Cherokee, two counts possession with intent to a controlled substance that is a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, manufacturing or distributing or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute methamphetamine on premises where children are present or reside

 

Those arrested will have their initial hearings in federal court on Friday.  Federal arrests warrants have been issued for Cox and Perez.  Other offenses fall under tribal, state and local jurisdictions.

The charges contained in the indictments are allegations.  The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

In making the announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the DEA; the Cherokee Indian Police Department; the Swain County Sheriff’s Office; the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office; the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office; the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office; the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office; the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office; the Asheville Police Department; the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; the North Carolina State Highway Patrol; and the U.S. Marshals Service for their coordinated efforts throughout this investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pritchard and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexis Solheim, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville, are in charge of the federal prosecutions.

Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a series of new actions by the Justice Department to support law enforcement and maintain public safety in Indian Country.  Among the actions announced was the deployment of the expanded Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP), which is designed to provide the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and other federally-recognized tribes with access to national crime information databases for criminal and civil purposes.  TAP allows tribes to more effectively serve and protect their nations’ citizens by ensuring the exchange of critical data across the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) systems and other national crime information systems.  

The Office of Tribal Justice also created the Indian Country Federal Law Enforcement Coordination Group, an unprecedented partnership that brings together sworn federal agents and key stakeholders from 12 federal law enforcement components with responsibilities in Indian Country, with the goal of increasing collaboration and coordination among law enforcement and enhancing the response to violent crime in Indian Country.

“As a member of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Council, addressing substance abuse and violent crime in Indian Country is a priority,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “My office is committed to supporting our tribal law enforcement partners and tribal leadership to identify and dismantle drug networks operating in and around Indian Country, and to provide greater access to technology, information, and funding, as we work jointly to increase public safety within the tribal community,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. 

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