published Friday, January 8th, 2010

26 indicted in meth probe

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    Staff photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press A Marion County task force arrested 19 people during a federal roundup with arrests in Marion, Sequatchie, Grundy and Hamilton counties for manufacturing methamphetamine, conspiracy to manufacturing meth and weapon charges. The 3-year investigation completed Thursday with the roundup.

After three years of investigation, federal authorities on Thursday unsealed a 38-count indictment against 26 people on charges of manufacturing meth in Marion County.

"All these people were involved in making meth, and we're taking them off the street," said Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett. "We're hoping this will reduce the amount of meth in this area."

The roundup started about 6 a.m. CST, as law enforcers, led by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, began bringing defendants from Bledsoe, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties to the Marion County Jail. At the end of the day, 19 were in custody, authorities said.

They are charged in federal indictments with conspiracy to manufacture more than 500 grams of methamphetamine and to acquire and possess pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth. Several also were charged with illegal possession of firearms and possession of firearms in drug trafficking, said Chad Johnson, an ATF agent who works with the Marion County Sheriff's Office task force.

"The case has been investigated since January 2007," Agent Johnson said. "It's good to finally get folks in custody and finally get them off the streets."

The arrests were a joint effort among the ATF, other federal agencies and with local law enforcers, including the sheriff's offices of Marion, Sequatchie and Grundy counties and the Dunlap Police Department, he said.

Many of these cases involved numerous violations of federal law for carrying and possessing firearms, said Darryl Hill, ATF resident agent in charge of the Chattanooga office.

The suspects were to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Mitchell Carter on Thursday or today, according to a Department of Justice news release.

If convicted, each defendant faces a statutory mandatory minimum of 10 to 20 years up to life imprisonment, as well as a $4 million fine and a minimum of five years of supervised release, reports show.

Thursday's roundup was not the end of the investigation for drug traffic involving meth, especially armed drug trafficking, Agent Hill said.

"There's other similar investigations going on with the exact same thing in this area and around about Southeast Tennessee," he said. "We are committed to addressing that issue and we're not going to stop."

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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