A routine traffic stop in Garden City began a chain of events that led to the downfall of an extensive cocaine and marijuana trafficking operation in Chatham and Bryan counties.
It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen very often in a small municipality, but Garden City police and their K-9 unit responded in full force. “This is what we live for,” Garden City Police Chief David Lyons said. “This is a career-maker. It’s the case of a lifetime.”
Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotic Team Commander Roy Harris announced conclusion of an extensive, months-long investigation Aug. 23 at CNT headquarters with the news that five more suspects had been arrested. “They’re being interviewed,” he said. “That may impact their sentencing later.”
Even though the investigation is concluded, the case remains open. Harris said further arrests might be made. “We never say, ‘This is the end,’” he said. “This culminates several phases of the investigation.”
The investigation began last October when a routine traffic stop turned into something more. “It became apparent soon after the stop that drugs were involved,” Lyons said.
The driver who was stopped seemed willing to give police more information. “Everyone realized we needed CNT involved,” Lyons said. “We don’t have the resources to handle an investigation like this.”
In all, 19 indictments were handed down from that investigation, covering events that occurred from Oct. 30 to May 30, and now all the suspects are behind bars. “That is huge,” Lyons said. “The number one thing we encourage our officers to do is look beyond a traffic stop.”
By the investigation’s conclusion, several law enforcement agencies had been involved, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s SWAT unit, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department’s K-9 unit, the Pooler and Richmond Hill police departments, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole, the U.S. Marshal Service and the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department.
All 19 of the suspects are charged with conspiring together and with others to distribute cocaine. Other charges include conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and various possession and trafficking offenses.
On May 27, CNT and other agencies executed numerous search warrants and seized 3.6 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of about $300,000, 8 pounds of marijuana, firearms, packing materials, cash counters, vehicles with hidden compartments and about $110,000 in cash. Harris said an estimated 8 to 10 kilos of cocaine was being moved by the suspects each month.
Thirteen of the suspects were already in custody when indictments were handed down Aug. 21 for Jahnard Massey, Latiya Phillips, Tiawanna Scott, Larry Laundy, Qwen Newberry and Ramero Brown. Officers hit the streets at 6 a.m. Aug. 23 to make the arrests.
“This was a coordinated effort,” Harris said. “It’s a very positive development to bring this to an end.”
In addition to the suspects, officers seized three more vehicles and 6 to 7 ounces of marijuana. “With the people arrested today and more arrested previously, we have confiscated money, cars -- this was a very large organization,” Harris said.
The suspects might not have totally surprised at their early morning arrests. “It was a very cautious drug organization,” Harris said. “They were very cognizant that police might be watching at any given point.”
Harris said another top-level investigation was concluded Aug. 16 when three suspected drug dealers -- Roy Loury, Dedrick Pierce and Travis Kimble -- were convicted by a jury. The three each face sentences of 10 to 25 years.
That investigation began in July 2006 when the three men were arrested by CNT officers in the 1400 block of East 37th Street during the execution of a search warrant. Agents seized about 18 pounds of marijuana, more than one pound of cocaine and three vehicles.
Chatham County Board Chairman Pete Liakakis congratulated the officers on the success of the most recent investigation. He said the 8 to10 kilos of cocaine moved monthly probably had a street value of $1 million or more. “A lot of drugs have been taken off the street,” he said. “They’ve done an excellent job.”
Liakakis said drug dealers looking at Savannah as a potential market should think twice. “They don’t know when they’re going to be arrested because of the sophisticated-type investigations we’re doing,” he said. “Their time is limited.”
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