|Updated: cocaine ring dismantled by DEA|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 23 November 2011 09:58|
Two Baker County men face federal drug charges related to cocaine trafficking across state lines.
John Christopher Townsend, 39, and Doyle Hardenbrook, 44, were among nine suspects from Texas, Georgia and Florida charged with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine.
They were arrested April 27, 2011, and both men have criminal histories involving drug sales.
Mr. Townsend served four years of a five-year sentence in prison for marijuana sales and trafficking in 1999, according to Florida Department of Correction records. He was also found guilty of DUI in 1991 and disorderly intoxication in 1995, Baker County court records show.
Mr. Hardenbrook pleaded guilty in 2001 to multiple counts of conspiracy to sell marijuana and received five years probation. The case originated in Columbia County in 1999.
The federal charges come as a result of a year-long investigation led by Baker County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Randy Crews, a member of the Jacksonville DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] task force.
Sheriff Joey Dobson and Inv. Crews were joined by the DEA’s Assistant Special Agent Charge Cam Strahm and Robert E. O’Neill, US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, for a press conference November 16 at the sheriff’s complex north of Macclenny.
They announced that six suspects in the drug ring, including Mr. Townsend, who they described as a cocaine distributor, had pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge.
Inv. Crews said the case began with information that Mr. Townsend was involved in drug trafficking. That led to what he called “sophisticated surveillance,” which directed authorities to other suspects allegedly involved with moving an estimated 160 kilograms of Mexican cocaine from Texas to Jacksonville between April 2010 and April 2011.
The five other suspects who pleaded guilty are the alleged drug suppliers Carlos Cordero, 65, and Maria Christina Martinez, 52, both of Houston, Texas; Steven Hoskins, 39, of Jacksonville, the alleged buyer of the drugs, and Edwin McDonald, 54, of Pierce County, GA, the alleged courier.
The conspiracy resulted in over $4 million in drug proceeds, according to officials.
Mr. Cordero, Mr. Townsend and Mr. Hoskins, each of whom have prior federal drug convictions, face sentences of 20 years to life in federal prison. Mr. McDonald and Ms. Martinez face sentences of 10 years to life in federal prison.
Rita Mukherjee, 23, also of Houston, pleaded guilty to using a phone to further the conspiracy to distribute five or more grams of cocaine and faces up to four years in federal prison.
Three other suspects were charged with conspiracy to distribute five or more grams of cocaine, including Mr. Hardenbrook of Baker County, as part of the investigation. Mr. Hardenbrook was expected to change his plea to guilty November 22, said US Attorney Robert E. O’Neill.
Andre James, 29, of Georgia was in federal custody awaiting an indictment “in the near future,” according to a statement distributed at the press conference by the US Attorney’s Office.
The final suspect, Alejandro Arreozola-Villareal, 52, of Dallas, Texas remained at large.
Mr. Townsend, Mr. Hardenbrook and Mr. McDonald are free on bond.
Mr. Townsend became aware that Mr. Hoskins was interested in purchasing large quantities of cocaine, the statement says, and through an associate Mr. Townsend was introduced to Cordero and Martinez.
The first transaction involved eight kilograms of cocaine and 10 future transactions involved 16 kilograms each concealed in the wheels of a pick-up truck, officials said.
Inv. Crews said he first received information related to the case in 2009, which kicked off the investigation that ended last April. The case was made largely through surveillance.
“I went on a lot of wild goose chases and stayed up a lot of late nights and got nothing,” he said. “But sometimes it doesn’t go like that and the one time it doesn’t, it busts the case wide open.”
Authorities confiscated more than $600,000 in six seizures.
Two of the seizures came from Mr. Townsend in Baker County. Police seized $183,670 from the suspect on March 24, 2011 and approximately $100,000 on March 29, 2011.
The largest cash seizure of some $230,000 came in December, 2010 in Mississippi, said Inv. Crews.
In addition to the money, investigators seized 16 kilograms of cocaine and a pound of methamphetamine.
Sheriff Joey Dobson said the bust is a big one for this area and may curb drug trafficking in rural areas that were once thought to be safe havens for such criminal activity.
“To talk about 160 kilos is a lot for Baker County,” he said.
A kilo is about the size of a brick.
“This case shows what can be produced by combining resources,” added Mr. O’Neill during the press conference.
The DEA task force is comprised of officers from law enforcement agencies in Jacksonville and its surrounding counties.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2011 13:40|