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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Tuesday - May 18, 2004

SMITHFIELD - At a news conference in Smithfield, N. C., on Tuesday, May 18, 2004, federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities announced the results of "Project Ratpack," an EASTFORCE investigation involving drug and firearm trafficking in the Johnston County area of North Carolina. EASTFORCE, a drug task force program developed by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, utilizes a team approach among federal, state, and local law enforcement to target the most significant drug traffickers/organizations in the Eastern District's 44 counties.

"Project Ratpack," which began in November, 2002, is a cooperative effort to investigate and convict individuals who present repeat problems for Johnston County law enforcement agencies. The investigation identified individuals in Johnston County who distributed significant quantities of cocaine and crack cocaine, primarily in Smithfield, Selma, Micro, Clayton, Four Oaks, Kenly, and Princeton, N. C. These drug traffickers avoided arrest and prosecution for years. This EASTFORCE investigation used federal laws and investigative techniques, in partnership with local agencies, to elicit cooperation and achieve indictments and arrests.

These individuals comprised a loose-knit organization of cocaine traffickers. The investigation revealed that a number of these individuals had extensive criminal histories involving narcotics and are deemed to be "career offenders." By using federal firearms laws, some of these individuals were brought into federal court under the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. These drug traffickers had an established network of underlings or street level drug dealers who distributed both crack and powder cocaine in various townships within Johnston County. In addition to the arrest and prosecution of these individuals, upon conviction their assets will be forfeited to the federal government and shared among the participating state and local law enforcement agencies.

To date, 19 defendants have been charged in federal cases as a result of "Project Ratpack." Those cases are detailed on the attached list.

The "Project Ratpack" investigation was conducted by the Johnston County Sheriff's Office; the Smithfield Police Department; the N. C. State Bureau of Investigation; the Raleigh Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Fayetteville Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Wilmington Office of U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and the Johnston County District Attorney's Office. Assistant U. S. Attorney Ethan A. Ontjes is prosecuting the cases for the government.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Each defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

View the List [PDF 11KB]


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