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According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, a series of sentencings and the guilty plea of a key defendant brings to 36 the number of defendants admitting guilt in Operation Sandy Bottom, the investigation and prosecution of violent criminal street gang members distributing methamphetamine and other drugs in the Coffee County, Ga.

, area.

Of the 48 defendants indicted in the operation in U.S.A. v. McMillan et al. in January 2021, just nine await trial and are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty; 14 have been sentenced to federal prison terms of up to 286 months, while 22 others have pled guilty to felony charges and await sentencing. Charges against one defendant were dismissed.

“The continued delivery of justice in Operation Sandy Bottom demonstrates the commitment our office brings to the identification and disruption of criminal street gangs who sell misery and sow fear in our communities,” said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “Our many local, state, and federal law enforcement partners exhibited exceptional performance in bringing this drug trafficking operation to a halt.”

Operation Sandy Bottom was an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation centered in the Sand Ridge neighborhood on the east side of Douglas, Ga., in an area known as “the bottoms.” The 57-count indictment alleges that the conspiracy, controlled by a subset of the Gangster Disciples street gang, used guns, violence and fear to control methamphetamine trafficking operations throughout the community and to enable contraband distribution inside Georgia prisons.

Multiple defendants have been sentenced or admitted guilt in U.S. District Court this week, including:

  • Jackie Kavaskia McMillan, a/k/a “Bijay,” 41, an inmate serving a life sentence for a state conviction on a charge of murder at Dooly State Prison, awaits sentencing in federal court after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute 5 Grams or More of Methamphetamine and a Quantity of Marijuana. As early as 2018, McMillan used contraband cell phones and compromised prison guards to coordinate the drug trafficking operation while incarcerated. His guilty plea subjects McMillan to a minimum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison, and up to 40 years.
  • Christina Veronda Alexander, 41, of Hazlehurst, Ga., was sentenced to 286 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute 5 Grams or More of Methamphetamine and a Quantity of Marijuana, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Alexander was McMillan’s girlfriend, and under McMillan’s direction obtained methamphetamine from a supplier in Mexico for distribution to street dealers in the conspiracy, and delivered contraband to compromised prison guards to smuggle to state prison inmates.
  • Brad Nikita Vickers, 34, of Douglas, Ga., sentenced to 240 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute 50 Grams or More of Methamphetamine, and an amount of Cocaine, Crack Cocaine, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Marijuana, Eutylone (Bath Salts), and Asprazolam (Xanax). Vickers was a mid-level drug distributor and source of supply to many of the street-level dealers in the conspiracy.
  • Phillip Lloyd Morgan, a/k/a “Tree Top,” 38, of Douglas, sentenced to 118 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute 5 Grams or More of Methamphetamine, and an amount of Cocaine, Crack Cocaine, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Marijuana, Eutylone, and Asprazolam. Morgan was a mid-level distributor in the conspiracy.
  • Leo Vonza Pender, a/k/a “Metro,” 39, of Alma, Ga., sentenced to 118 months in prison after pleading guilty to Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine. Pender was a street-level dealer in the conspiracy.
  • Richard Young, 55, of Hazlehurst, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine. Young admitted to participating in methamphetamine distribution as part of the conspiracy.

“The sentencing of these individuals proves that the FBI and our partners will spare no resource when it comes to ending an epidemic in our society that fuels violent crime and kills our citizens,” said Phil Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We want to thank our partners in the Georgia Safe Streets Violent Gang Task Force who relentlessly work along our side to dismantle these organized, violent criminal enterprises.”

The investigation began in 2018 when the Coffee County Drug Unit enlisted the assistance of the FBI and the Coastal Georgia Violent Gang Task Force to investigate community complaints about rising violence and drug activity in the Sand Ridge neighborhood of Douglas. As outlined in court documents and testimony, the conspiracy controlled multiple “trap houses” to store and distribute illegal drugs, primarily methamphetamine, coordinated by gang leaders who distributed drugs throughout Coffee, Bacon, Emanuel, Jeff Davis, Pierce and Wheeler counties, along with other parts of Georgia.

Investigators infiltrated the operation, intercepting multiple kilograms of drugs and nearly two dozen illegally possessed firearms, along with seven vehicles and more than $12,000 in cash identified as drug-trafficking proceeds.

The operation also identified and charged three Georgia state correctional officers who worked with gang members to smuggle contraband cell phones and illegal drugs to inmates affiliated with the conspiracy. Idalis Qua Dazia Harrell, 25, of Douglas, a former guard at Coffee County Correctional Facility; Jessica Azaelae Burnett, a/k/a “The Madam,” 42, of Douglas, a former senior guard at Coffee County Correctional Facility; and Ebony Desiree Smiley, a/k/a “Baby Girl, 25, of Vidalia, Ga., a former guard at Wheeler State Prison, each await sentencing after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Methamphetamine and Marijuana.

The case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. It was investigated by the FBI and the FBI Coastal Georgia Safe Streets Violent Gang Task Force; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office and the Coffee County Drug Unit; the Georgia Department of Corrections; the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office; the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office; the Bacon County Sheriff’s Office; the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office; the Lanier County Sheriff’s Office; the Blackshear Police Department; the Nicholls Police Department; the Douglas Police Department; the Alma Police Department; the Glynn County Police Department; the Brunswick Police Department; the Swainsboro Police Department; and the Coffee County Department of Family and Children Services.

The cases are being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph McCool and E. Greg Gilluly, with asset forfeitures coordinated by Xavier A. Cunningham, Section Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Recovery Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Tags: county sheriff’s office attorney’s office county sheriff’s sheriff’s office drug trafficking operation methamphetamine a former guard the united states police department the investigation awaits sentencing the investigation the fbi coastal georgia coordinated federal prison illegal drugs the operation crack cocaine the operation state prison violence our partners state prison gang members street level sentenced guilty plea the georgia

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Arizona developers lawyer want to rebut US House charges

PHOENIX (AP) — An attorney for an Arizona real estate developer who was referred to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation along with a former Trump administration Cabinet member by Democrats on a congressional committee demanded Thursday that he be allowed to publicly rebut the allegations against his client.

Lanny Davis, one of the lawyers representing Arizona developer Michael Ingram, said the House Natural Resources Committee improperly accused Ingram and former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt of bribery.

“I’m asking all these members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to allow me a chance to publicly rebut what I and Mr. Ingram believe are false or misleading allegations of criminal conduct,” Davis told reporters. “I would like to appear before the full committee.”

Last week’s criminal referral laid out what committee Democrats said appeared to be a series of campaign contributions totaling $241,000 to Trump-associated committees by Ingram and other wealthy Arizona resident he knows.

They said evidence they collected during a three-year committee investigation strongly suggested the payments were made in exchange for Bernhardt pushing an agency he oversaw to withdraw its opposition to a 28,000-home southern Arizona development Ingram controls.

The criminal referral from Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Katie Porter of California says Bernhardt pushed for approval of the Villages at Vigneto project despite a federal wildlife official’s finding that it would threaten habitats for imperiled species.

Bernhardt led the Interior from 2019 to 2021. In 2017, he was the No. 2 official at the department when the Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, reversed its opposition to Ingram’s project.

He called the criminal referral “a pathetic attempt by career politicians to fabricate news.”

Davis said Ingram cooperated fully with the probe and provided documents, emails and other materials without the panel issuing a subpoena. He said he was “100% transparent and cooperative with the committee staff and with Mr. Grijalva’s requests.”

Davis said he repeatedly asked if Grijalva would be willing to meet with Ingram and never got a response.

Lindsay Gressard, a Natural Resources Committee spokeswoman, said the panel believed it had gathered enough evidence to merit the criminal referral.

“We just felt that we would present the evidence we had and let DOJ take it from there,” Gressard said.

Grijalva said in a statement that he hoped Ingram would cooperate with the Justice Department.

Davis noted that the only wildlife at issue were “two birds and a snake,” but environmentalists also worry that the project near the San Pedro River would imperil the region’s dwindling water supplies.

The referral to the Justice Department laid out a series of meetings, administration actions and campaign donations in mid to late 2017 that committee Democrats said showed a disturbing pattern that they labeled an illegal quid pro quo.

Democrats noted that Ingram met with Bernhardt in August 2017, two weeks before a Fish and Wildlife official received the phone call directing him to reverse the decision blocking the project. The meeting was not disclosed in Bernhardt’s public calendar or travel documents.

Two months later, Ingram made a $10,000 donation to the Trump Victory Fund. The permit was approved later that month. At least nine other donors associated with Ingram also donated to the Trump Victory Fund in the days after Ingram’s donation, Democrats said.

Davis said his news conference was not intended to influence any possible Justice Department investigation. Ingram owns development company El Dorado Holdings and is a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s a Trump supporter and has made contributions to Arizona’s Republican governor and other state GOP candidates in recent years. Davis said Ingram has hired former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton to handle that matter.

A Justice Department spokesman said last week that the department will review the referral.

Davis said the criminal referral left out things that may help clear his client and repeatedly said that the correlation between the meetings, the campaign donations and Fish and Wildlife’s changed position don’t prove anything.

“That’s innuendo, that isn’t fact,” Davis said.


Associated Press reporter Matthew Daly in Washington contributed.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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