LAFAYETTE, Ga. — A Walker County family and at least 17 others could go to trial late this year, accused of being involved in a multi-state marijuana operation.
Twenty people pleaded not guilty either in person or by sending a signed waiver during their arraignment Tuesday in Walker County Superior Court. Six, including Warren and Barbara Smith and their son Seth, were indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.
Lookout Mountain District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin didn't return calls seeking comment, but a court docket shows the cases are set for trial in November.
Detectives said the group was one of the largest marijuana suppliers in the area, selling in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The suspects were smuggling the pot into Walker County, then using the Menlo home where the Smiths lived as a hub, detectives said.
"It was a regional operation," said Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force Commander Patrick Doyle.
The Smiths' attorneys say they are working on getting back the forfeited items seized during the searches.
The charges come after police seized $1.1 million in assets in April and, in a previous multi-agency search, took cars, boats, guns and other heavy equipment from the Smith's house, items believed to be connected to the case.
Barbara Smith's attorney, Martin Levitt, said he filed a 72-page response that took issue with how the search was conducted.
During one of the searches, police discovered there was a trailer that belonged to Warren Smith and they believe it was used to transfer marijuana across state lines, according to a search warrant. One transfer was reported to be made to Kentucky, the warrant stated.
Police believe the Smiths have been living in Walker County for the last 10 years. Authorities said the pot-dealing enterprise -- which also involved Randall Ferguson, Ronald Hise and Barry Franklin -- took place from November to February, according to Seth Smith's indictment.
In the past, the Smiths ran a barbecue restaurant and Barbara Smith ran an antique shop out of their garage, Doyle said. Authorities now are also investigating how the finances were handled in those businesses, he said.
Most of the evidence in the criminal case has been sealed, and defense attorneys said they don't know whether all the cases will be tried together or separately.
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 ...