Local News

State, local partnership busts major drug rings

Posted January 12, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— State and federal prosecutors Monday pressed newly elected officials to keep funding a program they say dismantled two major drug supply lines from Atlanta and Houston to New Hanover County.

The program enabled a two-year undercover investigation that kept 300 kilos of cocaine and heroin – worth an estimated $6.6 million – off the streets and got sentences for 11 drug dealers totaling 1,861 months – or 155 years' jail time.

"Drugs fuel the engine of crime," Benjamin David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties, said at a news conference.

Major crack, heroin drug supply lines busted Major crack, heroin drug supply lines busted

Under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program, U.S. attorneys deputize local assistant district attorneys. The ADAs then have access to federal tools used to track drug cases, following them through multiple jurisdictions.

The goal of the program is to track drugs back to their source and disrupt the supply chain.

"We are not fighting a war on drugs, so much as a war on drug dealers," David said.

A $200,000 grant from the Governor's Crime Commission enabled New Hanover County to be among the first to participate in the program. George E.B. Holding, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, tapped ADA Timothy Severo as a special assistant U.S. attorney.

Neither President-elect Barack Obama nor Gov. Beverly Perdue has indicated they would cut off funding for the program, prosecutors said. However, given the economic times and budget crises, they wanted to highlight the program's successes and press for it to be continued, prosecutors said.

"We're putting together successful programs that are bearing and will continue to bear fruit," Holding said.

"The results ... speak for themselves. We must continue this partnership," David said.

In 2006, Severo and other authorities launched the Seven Day Ground operation to go after a drug supplier in Wilmington, Lacy Tate. Tips led authorities to Tate's supplier, Shazhad Mathur, in Atlanta.

When Mathur stopped working with Tate, Tate turned to another supplier, Gratiniano Castillo, 41, in Houston, Texas. Castillo, an illegal immigrant, was responsible for importing at least 151 kilos of cocaine into eastern North Carolina between 2005 and July 2007, prosecutors said.

South Carolina law enforcement officers apprehended Castillo during a March 2007 traffic stop in Dillon. They found $295,890 in duct-taped bundles of cash in the car. Castillo offered it to officers as a bribe to let him go free, but they declined, prosecutors said.

Louisiana State Police also helped crack the drug ring, stopping cars delivering cocaine to North Carolina.

Tate and Mathur were also arrested and convicted, and all three received lengthy prison sentences – 40 years for Castillo and 20 years each for Tate and Mathur.

During the operation against Tate, authorities seized 17 kilos of cocaine, 3 ounces of heroin, five firearms and $312,000 in U.S. currency. The last prosecution wrapped up Jan. 6.

"The state and federal partnership we have forged and the police-prosecutor team approach ... have made justice in our area more swift and severe," David said.


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  • 2beachy4u Jan 13, 2009

    bigjoelee27, maybe it's best if you save up and move out of this country then. This country is founded upon christianity just in case you don't remember. I would watch what I said about "bible thumpers" and religion if I were you. These may be the people praying for you one day. God and religion is not what I want to be bad mouthing, especially this day and time. I want him on my side! People are going to abuse presciption drugs as well as smoke pot. What it boils down to is this, do what you want and suffer the consequences. Things are illegal for a reason. Pot will end up like alcohol if it were legalized. You would have some idiots get high and kill innocent people from driving under the influence. To each their own but I want to feel safe when I am riding down the road with my daughter in the car. I don't want to have to worry about stupid people that are high driving around us.

  • whatusay Jan 12, 2009

    Government needs to stop the drugs at the border, not when they get into this country. Our government is working backwards. Don't let the drugs in... But, government wants more tax money to try to catch someone selling something that should not even be here. Guard the boarders... Land, sea, and air.

  • dcatz Jan 12, 2009

    If you think alcohol related crimes are bad now, perhaps you should do a little research on the prohibition era. Particularly on the mafia and Al Capone.

    The attempt to banish alcohol provided a lucrative black market, made the mafia rich and powerful and caused an incalculable amount of violent crime.

    By making drugs illegal, you create a black market. Crimes are inherent in any black market. It's basic economics. Demand for drugs is higher than the supply. That means prices go up. Also, due to the government, drugs are illegal which means that obtaining them entails risk. That's why druggies have to resort to so much theft in order to afford the drugs.

    Legalize drugs and the risk goes away and the supply increases. Suddenly, drugs don't require a second job's wage to afford. The "war on drugs" has caused countless deaths and crime; many more than if they were legal.

    A person is ultimately the owner of their body and if they want to use dangerous substances, that is their right.

  • itsnotmeiswear Jan 12, 2009

    There are a lot of drugs that should never be "legalized". Heroin and cocaine are certainly two of them. People under the influence or addictive curse of these drugs are out of control and a danger to society.

    Clogging the court and prison systems with pot offenders is stupid and expensive. Take the money out of it and the biggest problem you may have is an increase in Dorito based obesity.

  • didisaythat Jan 12, 2009

    So all drugs are leagalized. What is this going to solve? Alcohol is legal and most violent crimes are related to the abuse of alcohol. With drugs it is responsible for the majority of property crime. Legalizing will do nothing but make it difficult for law enforcement to go after the drug dealers. You arrest the drug abusers and low level dealers to get informants for the big dealers. You do this by busting people for drug offenses that would not be possible when you legalize the drugs. We will still have the same problems we do now. The drug and its devistating affects do not change when it becoms legal.

    BigJoe, you can't afford to leave the country because you are a pot head with nothing more going for you than getting high and watching FRIDAY and eating Doritos. The bible thumpers have nothing to do with the drug problem. It is societies inability to control themselves and not get addicted to drugs, alcohol or money.

  • bigjoegvegas27 Jan 12, 2009

    Its funny that marijuana and other drugs are illegal, but we can go to the doctor and they will write up prescriptions for drugs that are a lot worse. What's the difference in smoking a little pot and taking a prescribed pain killer? The pain killer does a lot more damage to your body than pot. It is ok as long as the government can regulate, right? If I could afford to leave this country, I would. Our morals are way off because everything in our country is religiously motivated. We will never legalize pot until we get all the bible thumpers our of office.

  • htomc42 Jan 12, 2009

    Perhaps if the price of drugs didn't reflect the risk it currently does, those prices would be far lower. I guess we've learned absolutely nothing from the lessons of Al Capone.

  • The Fox Jan 12, 2009

    [Legalize drugs, and most of the crime will go away] Really? So where will the dopers get their money to buy legal drugs?

  • bushisaretard Jan 12, 2009

    Legalize drugs, and most of the crime will go away.

  • LocalYokel Jan 12, 2009

    whats the point of making big busts if we are not fixing the problem? how long have we been at this approach and what do we have to show for it? We are just putting people in jail and wasting money. Like the article describes, one person stops dealing, and another starts dealing. Its simple economics of supply and demand that will NEVER be fixed by law enforcement. All law enforcement can do is extend the misery. I would rather fund something that would be more productive, a good long term investment for the country instead of this vicious circle.