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HENRY COUNTY MARIJUANA GROW HOUSE OPERATORS INDICTED; 10 CHARGED ON RELATED DRUG TRAFFICKING & FIREARMS CRIMES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2011
http://www.jusice.gov/usao/gan/
CONTACT:  Patrick Crosby
(404)581-6016
FAX (404)581-6160

Four Marijuana Grow Houses Closed, Guns and Currency Seized

ATLANTA, GA -- The United States Attorney’s Office, along with the David G. Wilhelm Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force and the Henry County Police Department announce today that 10 individuals have been indicted for  alleged drug trafficking and firearms-related crimes stemming from their operation of marijuana grow houses in Henry County.  This week, 9 of the 10 defendants have been arrested and arraigned in United States Magistrate Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said of the case, “Through the David G. Wilhelm OCDETF Strike Force, the U.S. Attorney's office works with local and state law enforcement agencies to target drug trafficking organizations that impact us locally and regionally.  The federal prosecution of this organization for this conspiracy has a direct impact on the local community in Henry County, and regionally in the Northern District of Georgia, by making us all safer through the removal of dangerous grow houses from the community, and by having fewer drugs and guns on the streets.”

Rodney G. Benson, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division said, “The mission of DEA is unwavering--we combat drug trafficking organizations by investigating those who criminally distribute dangerous drugs which cause immeasurable damage to our communities. Today's enforcement activity is a perfect example of the law enforcement community working together to remove violent criminals from our streets.”

Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols said, “I appreciate the hard work and dedication that our narcotics unit put into working this case. These indoor grows are a relatively new problem here in Henry County and we are becoming more familiar in working these types of cases. Getting these individuals out of our community is a huge benefit to our law abiding citizens, and I know they appreciate it too. I would also like to thank the federal law enforcement authorities that assisted us with this case, helping bring it to a successful resolution.”

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: In the fall of 2010, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies began investigating a marijuana grow house organization operating in Henry County and elsewhere.  The organization allegedly coordinated the construction of hydroponic marijuana grow houses at four separate locations. Several members of the organization possessed firearms in support of the illegal narcotics trafficking activities. As part of the investigation, in November and December 2010, agents searched four separate marijuana grow house operations in Henry County that were constructed in residential homes with independent grow lighting, irrigation and nutrient systems designed to cultivate and grow marijuana plants for distribution. Agents also searched several of the residences of the defendants. Investigators found that three of the houses had been set up specifically as grow houses, and not to house residents. Those houses were located in Stockbridge, Georgia, at 925 Hemphill Road; 1680 Jodeco Road; and, 436 Hood Road.  A fourth house, located at 166 Alexander Drive in McDonough, Georgia, was used as both a residence and a grow house. Items seized during the investigation include 340 plants of marijuana, 52 guns, at least 50 grams of methamphetamine, and over $384,000 in cash. 

In March 2011, a federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment related to this grow house operation, which was unsealed on April 5, 2011, after the arrests.  The indictment charges the defendants with various criminal offenses including conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute over 100 plants of marijuana; substantive drug trafficking charges; and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes.  Those arrested include:

  •   JOSHUA MCCULLOUGH, 37, of Stockbridge, Georgia;
  •   JIMMY RAY WHORTON, 56, of Stockbridge, Georgia;
  •   SANDRA WHORTON, 49, of Stockbridge, Georgia;
  •   JAMES MCKENZIE, 29, of McDonough, Georgia;
  •   KARRY AUTRY, 30, of McDonough, Georgia;
  •   HOLLY AUTRY, a/k/a “Holly Fritzius,” 27, of McDonough, Georgia;
  •   BRAIN PREWITT, 33, of Griffin, Georgia;
  •   PAUL BUNCH, 36, of Stockbridge, Georgia; and
  •   IRA BUTLER, 46, of Stockbridge, Georgia.

JOSEPH TILLMAN, 41, of Griffin, Georgia, remains at large.  Members of the public are reminded that the indictment contains only allegations.  A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

The investigation and prosecution of this case is a coordinated effort with the Henry County Police Department and the David G. Wilhelm OCDETF Strike Force, which is comprised of Special Agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the United States Marshal Service (USMS); and, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), working with other state and local law enforcement agencies.  

  Special Assistant United States Attorney Michael Smith and Assistant United States Attorney Michael Brown are prosecuting the case.

For further information please contact Sally Q. Yates, United States Attorney, or Charysse L. Alexander, Executive Assistant United States Attorney, through Patrick Crosby, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Attorney's Office, at (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the Home Page for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.usdoj.gov/usao/gan.

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