ASHEVILLE — Federal, state and local agencies broke up a WNC methamphetamine trafficking ring, and 19 people face narcotics distribution conspiracy charges, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Authorities arrested 13 people Wednesday, and six arrests were pending as of Thursday afternoon. The accused face a statutory minimum prison term of 10 years, a maximum term of life imprisonment, and a $10 million fine.
“Together with our law enforcement partners we will continue our relentless pursuit of meth trafficking rings that operate in our communities, plague our neighborhoods and imperil our children,” said Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
The drug ring members conspired to possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of actual methamphetamine, or more than 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, which has a street value of $100 per gram, according to an unsealed indictment in U.S. District Court. The activity happened from about May 2012 to April of this year, primarily in Buncombe, Haywood, Macon, Swain and Jackson counties, according to the indictment.
The following individuals were named and charged in the methamphetamine conspiracy indictment: Cipriano Ramos Altamirano, 25, of Franklin; Claude Gregory Coggins, 50, of Cullowhee; Anne Harvey Cresswell, 42, of Franklin; Joseph Daniel Denmark, 32, of Franklin; Patricia Leigh Dreml, 48, of Bryson City; Daniel Furman Gibson, 50, of Franklin; Gerardo Beltran Llanas, 43, of Franklin; Carlos Lopez, 28, of Canton; Forest Shane Lynn, 42, of Robbinsville; Joshua Bryan Parker, 29, of Franklin; Eddie Dwayne Potts, 42, of Cullowhee; Gerardo Rodriquez-Aragon, 30, of Franklin; Javier Serna-Trejo, 30, of Clayton, Ga.; Chad Keith Shuler, 36, of Franklin; Paul Michael Swofford, 46, of Franklin; Ronald Edward Swofford, 39, of Franklin; James Homer Taylor, 52, of Franklin; Heather Marie West, 24, of Canton; Angela Leigh Wike, 39, of Bryson City.
The Macon, Jackson and Swain county sheriff’s offices and Franklin and Cherokee Indian police departments participated in the sting, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, State Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“The successful results of this investigation should let criminals who flood the drug market with methamphetamine know that DEA and its multilevel law enforcement partners will disrupt, dismantle and ultimately destroy their drug distribution network,” said Harry S. Sommers, special agent in charge of the DEA in Atlanta.
The defendants made their initial appearances Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell.
A separate unsealed indictment in U.S. District Court charged James Homer Taylor, 52, and David Carlton Martin, 57, of Franklin, with one count of dealing in firearms without a license. Martin was also arrested during the Wednesday roundup. Taylor and Martin face a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine for the firearms charge.
“Drug dealers are poison enough to our communities, but when you include a drug dealer who also deals in guns that have the high potential of being used in violent crimes, it becomes a top priority of ATF to stop them and hold them accountable for their criminal conduct.” said Wayne L. Dixie, ATF special agent in charge. “Anyone who deals in the illegal transfer of firearms and manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs can be assured that the full wrath and resources of the federal government will be used to remove them from our neighborhoods.”