50 ARRESTS IN FIRST DAY OF “BLYND JUSTUS” MISSISSIPPI COUNTY SWEEP - SEVENTY DEFENDANTS FACING MULTIPLE DRUG AND GUN CHARGESAugust 11, 2015
BLYTHEVILLE — More than 150 Arkansas State Troopers were part of a major arrest operation in Mississippi County today joining with approximately 350 federal agents in the culmination of a two-year long investigation involving alleged drug and guns crimes centered in the Blytheville and Osceola areas.
Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, David T. Resch, Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Scott Ellington, Prosecuting Attorney for the Second Judicial District of Arkansas, announced today the simultaneous unsealing of 40 federal indictments charging 70 defendants in a major operation aimed at curbing drug trafficking and gun violence in Blytheville and Mississippi County. The indictments were returned by the Grand Jury on August 5, 2015, and were unsealed today following a coordinated roundup of the charged defendants.
The Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, named Blynd Justus, began in 2013, with a goal to target steadily increasing drug and gun crime in Mississippi County. Early Tuesday morning 574 law enforcement officers, including more than 300 tactical officers, helped execute the arrest warrants in a targeted takedown that resulted in the arrests of 50 defendants on various federal firearm and drug charges, including eleven defendants who were already in state custody. Twenty defendants are now fugitives. Most of the defendants are residents of Blytheville (see attachment for complete list of defendants and charges).
“When I was confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas five years ago I made a commitment to help clean up the Arkansas Delta,” Thyer said. “It has been evident for some time that drugs and guns are overrunning the entire Arkansas Delta in general, and Mississippi County in particular. Today’s operation is a signal to those criminals that the law enforcement community at all levels will find you and stop you. Our collective goal is to return these communities to their law-abiding citizens. And while the 40 indictments announced today are a huge step toward this goal, our commitment to helping our friends in this part of the state will continue long after today.”
From January 2014 through June 2015, agents with the FBI and Second Judicial District Drug Task Force coordinated more than 160 controlled purchases of drugs and/or firearms, resulting in the acquisition of more than 19 pounds of methamphetamine and 89 illegally possessed firearms, several of which were stolen. Also, more than 10 ounces of crack cocaine was purchased in the investigation. A majority of the 70 defendants are convicted felons.
“The arrests that were carried out today show our unwavering determination to disrupt violent gang activity and dismantle illegal sales of firearms and drugs in our state,” Resch said. “Today’s operation, which includes 40 indictments and 70 defendants, combined with the 72 arrests during Delta Blues and the 24 arrests during Delta Crossroads represent the significant commitment of the FBI and the USAO to target violent criminals in eastern Arkansas. We appreciate the concentrated efforts made by our partners, USAO, ATF, U.S. Marshals, DEA, IRS, 2nd Judicial DTF, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas National Guard Counter Drug Unit, Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office, the Blytheville and Osceola Police Departments, and the SE Missouri Drug Task Force.”
“On behalf of our local law enforcement agencies and the cities of Blytheville and Osceola, I want to thank U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer and FBI Special Agent In Charge David Resch for their commitment to help the good people of Mississippi County take back our community from those destroying it with crime and violence,” prosecuting attorney Ellington said. “Lieutenant Bobby Ephlin, Lieutenant Roy Coleman, Deputy Prosecutor Corey Seats and all the officers of the Second Judicial District Drug Task Force worked hard in conjunction with FBI Special Agent Ed Jernigan to make this operation successful. Sheriff Dale Cook, Chief Ross Thompson and Chief David Gladden deserve thanks for their continued support of the Task Force.
“Our community is worth fighting for, and I believe in Blytheville and Osceola. Cleaning up this community begins with holding people accountable for their actions. Today, with the help of the FBI and the Arkansas State Police, we took a big step toward taking back our community from the thugs and criminals who choose to sell drugs and guns, rather than contribute to it in a positive manner.”
This is the third major operation centered in Mississippi County that the United States Attorney’s office for the Eastern District has been involved in since 2013, and the largest. In March 2013, the Grand Jury returned seven indictments naming 19 defendants, and in January 2014, the Grand Jury returned an indictment naming 25 defendants. Delta Blues was an operation centered in Helena-West Helena, and Delta Crossroads was centered in West Memphis. All indictments included multiple drug charges.
“This type of investigation shows the great teamwork and commitment of the federal, state and local agencies, and the Arkansas State Police in combating drug and gun trafficking in the State of Arkansas,” Arkansas State Police Colonel Bill Bryant said. “All of these agencies combined their assets and resources to disrupt and dismantle these drug trafficking organizations.”
In addition to the arrest warrants served today, the IRS served two search warrants at properties owned by another individual not indicted, and a financial investigation continues.
“The role of IRS CI (Criminal Investigation) in narcotics investigations is to follow the money so we can financially disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations,” said Christopher A. Henry, IRS Special Agent in Charge. “We are proud to work with our law enforcement partners by providing our financial investigative expertise. Today’s enforcement actions are an example of how the various law enforcement agencies in this district work together to stop the flow of illegal drugs into our communities.”
The counts in today’s unsealed indictments include conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of crack cocaine and cocaine, use of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, felon in possession of a firearm, and use of a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking crime. (See attached defendant/indictment list)
Those arrested today will be arraigned in federal court in Little Rock before United States Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 13, 2015. Defendants already in custody will be arraigned on August 27, 2015, at 2 p.m.
The investigation was conducted by FBI, in partnership with the 2nd Judicial District Drug Task Force, which includes officers from the Blytheville Police Department, the Osceola Police Department and the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office. Agencies assisting in today’s arrest operation include the Arkansas State Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Arkansas National Guard Counter Drug Unit, the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force (SEMO DTF), and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations. The 40 indictments are being prosecuted by a team of multiple Assistant United States Attorneys, headed by Chris Givens and Kristin Bryant.
An indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.