News and Press Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

THURSDAY - May 14, 2009

TWO DEFENDANTS SENTENCED IN OPERATION FIRE ANTS

WILMINGTON - United States Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that in federal court yesterday Senior United States District Judge James C. Fox, sentenced two defendants in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Operation entitled Fire Ants. FRANCISCO RANGEL SANCHEZ, 32, of Duplin County, North Carolina, received 106 months’ imprisonment followed by five years supervised release. LESLIE CALVIN POWELL, 48, of Richland, North Carolina, received 141 months’ imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release.

SANCHEZ was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury on September 24, 2008. On January 21, 2009, SANCHEZ pled guilty to conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of mixture or substance containing methamphetamine. On October 22, 2008, POWELL was indicted and on January 5, 2009, he pled guilty to conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of a substance containing methamphetamine and a quantity of cocaine, possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

On August 29, 2008, a traffic stop was performed by deputies with the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office on the vehicle in which SANCHEZ and a co-defendant, Jonathan Rainer Williams, were traveling. Their vehicle was suspected of transporting narcotics. During the course of the traffic stop, officers found that Williams had four ounces of methamphetamine in his groin area. The investigation revealed that SANCHEZ was responsible for distributing more than six kilograms of methamphetamine into Eastern North Carolina from 2005 until the time of his arrest.

In a separate incident, on September 18, 2008, a controlled buy was performed at POWELL’s residence in Onslow County, where 24 grams of methamphetamine were purchased from POWELL. Officers then executed a search warrant at the residence and found 163 grams of methamphetamine, 38 grams of cocaine, $5,054.00 in United States Currency and a loaded Springfield Armory, 9mm handgun. During the course of the investigation it was determined that POWELL had been responsible for distributing more than one kilogram of methamphetamine and three kilograms of cocaine.

These cases involve the investigation of importers and the multi-level distribution of Mexican manufactured methamphetamine being distributed into Eastern North Carolina. The organization is responsible for the importation and distribution of more than 100 kilograms of Methamphetamine into Eastern North Carolina.

A total of 18 individuals have been charged in Operation Fire Ants, ten of whom have been sentenced and four of whom have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Mr. Holding commented, “I want to applaud the work of the investigators in Operation Fire Ants. These sentences, as well as the other convictions which have been obtained in this investigation, are important steps in our effort to try and stem the flow of methamphetamine in this state.”

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration-Wilmington, North Carolina State Bureau Of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Duplin County Sheriff’s Office, Beaullaville Police Department, and the North Carolina Department of Community Corrections. Special Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Severo and Assistant United States Attorney Brian S Meyers represented the government. Mr Severo is a prosecutor with the New Hanover District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Ben David has assigned him to the United States Attorney’s office to prosecute federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force criminal matters. This has been made possible by a grant funded by the Governor’s Crime Commission and the New Hanover County Commissioners.

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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