Authorities have arrested five individuals in connection with a major regional drug bust after they were stopped in a car with over 10 pounds of methamphetamine valued at about $448,000, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Doug Gregg.
Gregg said the arrests of Guadalupe Granado, 35, Newport; Marcos Antonio Rivera, 33, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Mendoza Ventura Placido, 29, Galax, Va.; Abel Martinez Tavera, 37, Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Elias Mazariegos Perez, 30, Morristown, stem from a investigation that began at the end of March as a spinoff of Operation Talisman, a 2009 investigation that investigators called the largest drug operation ever conducted in Washington County.
The trial ended in February 2010, so this case pretty much started up where the Talisman case left off, Gregg said.
While Gregg couldn’t specify what investigators with WCSO did during the investigation since it hasn’t gone to trial yet, he said investigators were involved with surveillance throughout much of the investigation.
There’s a lot of things we did that we can’t really release yet. We were pretty much involved from the beginning to the end, he said.
Just about every date where there was surveillance or anything like that going on, we were there. At least three or four of us on each meet, if not more.
The drug investigation, led by the Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force of Johnson City, covered everywhere from Washington County to Morristown, according to Gregg.
According to the criminal complaint filed by authorities, on May 14, a red Dodge Ram, which had been used by Granado on multiple occasions during the investigation, and a red Chevy Cavalier were spotted in Greeneville near a buy location that had previously been set up.
Granado told authorities his suppliers wanted to see the money again before giving them the drugs. When authorities declined, the buy did not happen and the two vehicles left the scene and drove back to Hamblen County.
The two vehicles reportedly pulled into a gas station where Placido, the driver of the Ram, and Perez, the driver of the Cavalier, got out of their vehicles and talked.
Law enforcement approached the individuals and placed them under arrest.
Officers discovered ten pounds of methamphetamine in the back of the Ram and a loaded 9mm gun, with an extra magazine in a cooler in the Cavalier.
A search warrant was later served at Granado’s residence, 833 Fowlers Ridge Road, Newport, after a white Cadillac that had been spotted in close proximity to the other two vehicles at the buy location was seen near the residence.
The Cadillac reportedly approached the area and then pulled away as officers followed the vehicle.
The Cadillac was pulled over and officers discovered Granado in the passenger seat and Riveri behind the wheel. Authorities then discovered a quantity of marijuana, a large amount of cash, drug ledgers and other items inside the residence.
Gregg said the discovery of the ten pounds of crystal meth was probably the largest seizure of methamphetamine in East Tennessee ever.
In addition to the WCSO, the 3rd and 4th Judicial Drug Task Forces, Morristown Police Department, Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office, Cocke County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson City Police Department, Elizabethton Police Department, Kingsport Police Department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol assisted with the investigation.
With the amount of drugs involved and the professional nature of the drug dealers, Gregg said it’s not uncommon for multiple agencies to work together in an investigation of this size.
To be able to take down the entire organization, you have to have the cooperation of not only the local guys, but all the way up to the DEA, because the DEA has a lot better resources to be able to do things that we can’t because of jurisdictional boundaries,he said.
Gregg said it’s quite the accomplishment to be able to work together and take that much drugs off the street. He also believes the people arrested were connected to larger drug organizations.
Because of the amount of drugs that were involved, I don’t think anybody that was arrested was a small-time player.
To be able to get that kind of drugs alone says you’ve got the trust from somebody who probably has connections to the cartels, because 10 pounds of crystal meth is unheard of in this area, he said.
Granado, Rivera, Placido, Tavera and Perez appeared in U.S. District Court in Greeneville Tuesday for arraignment.
Agents from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed immigration detainers on each of the individuals who are of Mexican and Guatemalan nationality.
A preliminary hearing on the case was set for May 27.
If convicted, each individual faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years up to life in prison, a fine of up to $4 million and a term of at least five years of supervised release.
Friday, May 28, 2010
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