JULY 20– Lawrence J. Laurenzi, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging 12 suspects with federal drug trafficking violations.
The suspects were arrested earlier today during a round-up conducted by members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the 24th Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics Unit, both the Jackson and Madison County SWAT teams, and the McNairy County Drug Task Force. The 12 defendants named in the indictment are crystal methamphetamine traffickers, the government claims.
The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Jackson on July 17, but remained sealed until today’s arrests. The indictment contains counts alleging violations of the Controlled Substances Act, counts alleging illegal possession of firearms after being convicted of a felony, as well as counts for possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The Justice Department said the suspects arrested during the operation are:
• Kevin Smith, 44, Saltillo, Tennessee;
• Ashley Sweat, 39, Adamsville, Tennessee (already in custody on state charges);
• Jennifer Holley-Melton, 42, Lutts, Tennessee;
• Phillip Steely, 51, Jackson, Tennessee;
• Deena Orr, 38, Huntingdon, Tennessee;
• Steven Jones, 41, Reagan, Tennessee;
• Heather Walker, 36, Parsons, Tennessee;
• Dina Evans, 54, Decaturville, Tennessee;
• Doug Evans, 52, Bath Springs, Tennessee;
• Rhonda Carter, 48, Iuka, Mississippi;
• David Mathis, 50, Lexington, Tennessee
“Along with our federal, state and local partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to use every lawful tool we have to take violent offenders and drug traffickers off our streets. We will bring criminals to justice. That’s our commitment to the citizens in the Western District,” Laurenzi said.
Count 1 charges Kevin Smith, Phillip Steely, Joshua Tucker, Deena Orr, Steven Jones, Heather Walker, Dina Evans, Doug Evans, Rhonda Carter, Ashley Sweat, David Mathis and Jennifer Holley-Melton with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine.
Count 2 charges Kevin Smith, Phillip Steely, Joshua Tucker, Deena Orr, Steven Jones, Heather Walker, Dina Evans, Doug Evans, Rhonda Carter, Ashley Sweat, David Mathis and Jennifer Holley-Melton with aiding and abetting each other to possess with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine.
Count 3 and 4 charges Kevin Smith with knowingly distributing actual methamphetamine and knowingly distributing over 50 grams of actual methamphetamine.
Count 5 charges Kevin Smith, Deena Orr and Phillip Steely with knowingly possessing with intent to distribute 5 or more grams of actual methamphetamine.
Count 6 charges Joshua Tucker with knowingly possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine.
Counts 7 and 8 charge Joshua Tucker with being a felon in possession of an AR-15 style rifle and a 9 mm pistol.
Counts 9 and 10 charge Joshua Tucker with possessing two firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, during the course of the over nine-month investigation, law enforcement officials have seized illicit narcotics, five firearms, five vehicles and $7,600 in cash.
The charges in the indictment stem from the illegal activity of participating in a conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute ice (methamphetamine with more than 80 percent purity).
“This case is a great example of local, state and federal agencies working together on multi-jurisdictional investigations, targeting violent drug organizations preying on the citizens of West Tennessee. The subjects of this investigation were responsible for the distribution of large quantities of crystal methamphetamine. The dismantlement of this organization should send a clear message that law enforcement and federal prosecutors are here to attack these threats with everything at our disposal,” said Jim Catalano, DEA resident agent in charge.
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the 24th Judicial District Drug Task Force, and Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics. Assistant United States Attorneys Taylor Eskridge and Beth Boswell are prosecuting this case on the government’s behalf.
The Justice Department noted that the charges and allegations contained in the indictment are “merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.”