Sheriff: Hart County informant kicks off federal drug investigation netting 19 indictments

  • Drugs, money and other items confiscated as part of a two-year federal, state and local drug investigation are shown.
    Drugs, money and other items confiscated as part of a two-year federal, state and local drug investigation are shown.
  • Drugs
  • Drugs
  • Drugs

A two-year joint federal, state and local drug investigation dubbed “Operation Wu Block” that the Hart County Sheriff’s Office played an “intricate” role in is resulting in 19 federal indictments being handed down to 68 defendants, including several locals.

More than 58 kilograms of methamphetamine, more than two kilograms of heroin, 31 firearms and $56,000 have been seized during the ongoing investigation, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

The Hart County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Friday it “played an intricate part in kicking off” the operation by providing key informants during the investigation.

Sheriff Mike Cleveland told The Sun his office contacted federal agents about two years ago when they realized it was a bigger case than one agency could work.

“We had a couple of informants and they just opened Pandora’s box,” Cleveland said. “There was a lot of agencies involved, but I was proud of our boys who sort of kicked it off.”

Cleveland said the sheriff’s office provided investigators with the first few informants who knew what was going on in the operation. 

“At first, we thought it was going to involve maybe half a dozen people,” Cleveland said. “And some of them were in prison ... and still able to deal or oversee this stuff.”

Many of the defendants are allegedly connected, Cleveland said. Some suspects who could also face federal indictments are currently in prison, Cleveland said.

Individuals arrested in Hart County as part of the investigation who are criminally charged in the federal indictments include: Joey Arguelles, 24, of Hart County; Jason Bellew, 35, of Elbert County; Joshua Wayne Coker, 38, of Hart County; Thomas Joey Fowler, 39, of Hart County; Russell Huckeba, 40, of Gwinnett County, Kenneth Jarrett, 59, of Pickens County, Daniel McCulllough, 27 of Hart County, Scott Moore, 39 of Hart County and Madlyn Mull, 21, of Hart County.

Federal grand juries returned 19 indictments for 68 defendants. Some of the charges for those defendants include conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine with a maximum sentence of life in prison; conspiracy with intent to distribute heroin with a maximum sentence of 40 years imprisonment; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine or heroin with sentences ranging from a maximum 20 years to life in prison; distribution of methamphetamine or heroin with sentences ranging from twenty years to life in prison, depending on the amount of controlled substances charged; possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation is being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Macon Resident Office, FBI Middle Georgia Safe Streets Gang Task Force, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, Hart County Sheriff’s Office, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Department of Corrections and Northeast Regional Drug Task Force in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia. These agencies continue to target large scale drug trafficking organizations operating in northeast Georgia and throughout the state of Georgia, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Operation Wu Block,” an OCDETF-led investigation, is part of the larger “Operation Crystal Shield,” a national DEA operation first announced on February 20, 2020 during a press conference in Atlanta. The investigation is focused on eight main methamphetamine trafficking transportation hubs across the nation, including Atlanta. Both are on-going operations.

The 68 defendants are listed below by last name, first name:

• Arguelles, Joey, 24, Hart County

• Baza, Frankie, 32, Gwinnett County

• Bellew, Jason Monroe, 35, Elbert County

• Bennett, Byron, 41, Athens-Clarke County

• Bentley, Peggy, 48, Oconee County

• Bishop, Latasha, 33, Athens-Clarke County

• Booker, Chuckferrio, 30, Athens-Clarke County

• Bray, Benjamin, 23, Madison County

• Carter, Haley, 21, Athens-Clarke County

• Casey, Jason, 38, Oconee County

• Clouse, Justin, 38, Athens-Clarke County

• Coker, Joshua Wayne, 38, Hart County

• Coker, Larry Thomas, 34, Oconee County

• Cook, Steven Mark, 32, Athens-Clarke County

• Cruz Sanchez, Mishel, 29, Gwinnett County

• Davis, Ashley, 26, Madison County

• Duarte, Jasmin, 26, Oconee County

• Eddy, Crystal, 38, Athens-Clarke County

• Elliott, Jeri Renee, 49, Athens-Clarke County

• Espino, Juan, 45, Oconee County

• Fain, Angela, 48, Franklin County

• Fain, William, 55, Franklin County

• Fowler, Thomas Joey, Hart County

• Gee, Jennifer, 33, Athens-Clarke County

• Gowen, Howard Burnham, 50, Athens-Clarke County

• Green, Jonathan, 34, Athens-Clarke County

• Gresham, Cierra, 23, Athens-Clarke County

• Hancock, Maurice, 46, Barrow County

• Hernandez, Lazaro, 28, Cobb County

• Hicks, Bruce, 39, Madison County

• Houseman Kristy Lynn, 40, Athens-Clarke County

• Howard, William Mathew, 45, Arlington, Virginia

• Huckeba, Russel, 40, Gwinnett County

• Jarrett, Kenneth Lee, 59, Pickens County

• Kelley, Ronald, 49, Madison County

• Kraps, Jessica, 35, Athens-Clarke County

• Leonard, Amy Laura, 51, Johnson City, Tennessee

• Maddox, Dwayne, 34, Athens-Clarke County

• Manley, Ashley Michelle, 25, Athens-Clarke County

• Mata-Bustos, Esmeralda, 38, Gwinnett County

• McCullough, Daniel Keith, 27, Hart County

• Melton, Kyle, 34, Athens-Clarke County

• Moon, Andrew, 31, Athens-Clarke County

• Moore, Chandler, 35, Bristol, Tennessee

• Moore, Rodney Lewis, 33, Athens-Clarke County

• Moore, Scott, 39, Hart County

• Morris, Mechelle, 44, Oglethorpe County

• Mull, Madlyn Vista, 21, Hart County

• Mulligan, Gregory, 29, Athens-Clarke County

• Mutch, Michelle, 27, Athens-Clarke County

• Newsome, Greyson, 31, Athens-Clarke County

• Paige, Audrey Lynn, 30, Athens-Clarke County

• Ramos, Cindy Isamara, 28, Cobb County

• Shaver, Mathew, 43, Oglethorpe County

• Silverio, Mario Alberto, 40, Cobb County

• Smith, Shana Leeanne, 31, Oconee County

• Sterling, Kenneth, 50, Athens-Clarke County

• Sutton, Pamela Lynn, 38, Athens-Clarke County

• Turbeville, Steven, 38, Barrow County

• Turrubiartes Amaro, Ricardo, 22, Gwinnett County

• Wampler, Cecil, 35, Bristol, Tennessee

• Wheeler, Travis, 36, Athens-Clarke County

• Wolford, April, 29, Athens-Clarke County

• Wolford, Garrett, 33, Athens-Clarke County

• Woodrum, Darien, 27, Athens-Clarke County

• Young, James Andrew, 26, Oglethorpe County

• Young, Ricky Keith, 32, Walton County

• Zavala, David, 28, Gordon County