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WEDNESDAY, October 5, 2005

WILMINGTON - At a news conference in Wilmington, N. C., on Wednesday, October 5, 2005, Federal, State, and Local law enforcement authorities announced the results of “Operation Maple Leaf,” an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation involving drug and firearm trafficking in the Pender, Duplin, Onslow, and New Hanover County areas of North Carolina. An OCDETF investigation is a federal investigation that utilizes a team approach among federal, state, and local law enforcement to target and dismantle the most significant violent criminal groups and drug trafficking organizations.

The Investigation “Operation Maple Leaf,” which began in March, 2003, was a cooperative effort to investigate and convict individuals federally who had been a continuing problem for the law enforcement agencies of Duplin, Pender, Onslow, and New Hanover County. The investigation identified a violent group of individuals in Maple Hill, N. C. area who were trafficking in firearms and distributing large quantities of powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana. These drug and gun traffickers had avoided arrest and prosecution for a number of years by operating in a secluded area, by dealing with a select clientele with whom they had established trust for a number of years, and having familiarity with investigative techniques used by law enforcement agencies. By utilizing federal laws and investigative techniques, working in partnership with the agencies represented in this OCDETF investigation, investigators have been able to elicit cooperation from the individuals involved, leading to further indictments and arrests. These individuals comprised a tightly-knit organization, and were intimately familiar with each other’s activities and reputations as narcotics and guns traffickers. A number of these individuals had violent criminal histories, making them career offenders, resulting in longer sentences. By utilizing federal firearms laws, some of these individuals were brought into federal court under the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.

The information obtained from the Maple Hill organization led investigators to a drug network in the Duplin County areas of Magnolia and Rose Hill that was supplying the narcotics to the Maple Hill area. The drug suppliers, who were of Honduran and Mexican descent, were dealing in firearms and trafficking narcotics from the southern border of the United States to the Eastern District of North Carolina.

To date, more than 50 defendants have been prosecuted in Federal and State cases as a result of “Operation Maple Leaf.” Those cases are detailed on the attached list. The investigation has led to the seizure of multiple kilograms of crack and powder cocaine, 70 Firearms, two machine guns and approximately 2000 rounds of ammunition. In addition to the arrest and prosecution of these individuals, their assets have been forfeited to the Federal Government and shared among the participating State and Local law enforcement agencies. Assets seized in this investigation include currency, vehicles, and real property valued at approximately $300,000.00.

The “Operation Maple Leaf” investigation was conducted by the Wilmington Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) with the assistance of the Pender County Sheriff’s Office, the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office, the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, the N. C. State Bureau of Investigation, the Wilmington and Raleigh offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Wilmington and Houston, Texas offices of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Wilmington Office of the United States Marshals and the Pender County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan A. Ontjes prosecuted the cases for the federal government.

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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