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Press Release

Man Sentenced to 15 Years for Large-Scale Drug Trafficking Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A North Carolina man was sentenced today to 15 years in prison for his role in a large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy rooted in Mexico, spanning the continental United States, and settling in Hampton.

According to court documents, Donald Lee Southerland, 49, pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, cocaine base and fentanyl. Over the course of approximately three to four years, Southerland is conservatively attributed with hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars in drug proceeds as well as over 63 kilograms of heroin and more than 43 kilograms of marijuana among other significant quantities of illicit substances. Southerland’s biggest heroin customer lived in Hampton.

The case was investigated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), Operation Cookout. The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States. This grant program is administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). There are currently 28 HIDTAs, which include approximately 18 percent of all counties in the United States and 66 percent of the U.S. population.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Washington D.C.; Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division; Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Washington, D.C. Field Office, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of Virginia State Police; Steve R. Drew, Chief of Newport News Police; Terry L. Sult, Chief of Hampton Police Division; Col. K.L. Wright, Chief of Chesapeake Police; and Hampton Commonwealth's Attorney Anton A. Bell made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge David J. Novak. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Cross and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Hudson and Peter Osyf are prosecuting this case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:19-cr-47.


Joshua Stueve
Director of Public Affairs

Updated July 28, 2020

Drug Trafficking