News and Press Releases

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Tuesday - June 7, 2005

RALEIGH - United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney announced that the N. C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), the Lumberton Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and his office have conducted a joint two-year investigation into the activities of a violent narcotics trafficking organization in and around Robeson and Scotland Counties. The investigation, code-named "Project Eclipse," began in March 2003 and has resulted in significant federal convictions of members of a violent drug organization based primarily in the Maxton area of Robeson County.

This EASTFORCE investigation targeted more than 25 subjects and has resulted thus far in the seizure of approximately five kilograms of cocaine, 50 firearms, and $25,000.00 in U. S. Currency. 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.

The following individuals have been charged, convicted, and sentenced under federal drug trafficking laws in the Eastern District: PHILLIP QUINN SMITH of Maxton, N. C. (25 years imprisonment); DERRICK RAY CHAVIS of Maxton, N. C. (Nine and one-half years imprisonment); VERNON VERDELL BLACKHORSE of Maxton, N. C. (Eight years and eight months imprisonment); JOHNNY WILLIAMSON of Maxton, N. C. (10 years and 10 months imprisonment); and THOMAS STRICKLAND of Maxton, N. C. (10 years imprisonment).

JONATHAN BRYANT, RANDY BULLARD, and DEWEY STRONG, all of Maxton, N. C., have pled guilty to federal drug charges and are awaiting sentencing in the Eastern District.

The following individuals were convicted and sentenced in the Middle District: J. P. DOUGLASS of Gibson, N. C. (13 and one-half years imprisonment); and MARVIN L. BENNETT of Gibson, N. C. (10 years imprisonment).

According to official documents and evidence presented in court, PHILLIP QUINN SMITH was the self-described "mayor" of the Jonesville area of Maxton and often utilized threats, violence, and intimidation to maintain his control over the drug distribution network in that area. SMITH further described himself and those who worked for his illicit drug trade operation as the "Untouchables," based upon his belief that they were immune to law enforcement efforts. SMITH previously had been charged with the murder of Maxton resident Thomas Bell but was acquitted following a trial. He currently is awaiting trial on state charges for accessory to murder of a Scotland County resident and two counts of rape in Robeson County. On May 15, 2004, law enforcement authorities from the Scotland County Sheriff's Office, the Robeson County Sheriff's Office, the SBI, and ATF conducted a 10-hour manhunt for SMITH in order to serve a federal warrant for his arrest. SMITH was apprehended following a car chase in Laurel Hill, N. C.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Ethan A. Ontjes is prosecuting the "Project Eclipse" cases for the United States. The investigation will continue.

News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney's web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce within 48 hours of release.

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