Ten People Charged in Northeast Alabama Conspiracy to Distribute Meth
HUNTSVILLE -- Two illegal aliens serving time in Georgia state prisons and using contraband cell phones directed at least eight people in northeastern Alabama and Chattanooga to carry out a conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, federal and local officials announced today.
Eight people now face a federal indictment that they conspired to traffic 50 grams or more of the illegal drug in Cleburne, Etowah, Marshall and DeKalb counties from December 2013 through May this year. A ninth individual faces a separate distribution count in the indictment. U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Roger Stanton, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, Gadsden Police Chief John Crane, Dekalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris, Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver and Heflin Police Chief A.J. Benefield announced the charges from a 19-count indictment returned in June and unsealed this month following the arrest of three defendants. One of the remaining six defendants already was in federal custody, and the five others are in jails or state prisons in Georgia and Alabama.
A 10th defendant, THOMAS WATSON SMITH, 39, of Rome, Ga., was charged in April with one count of possession with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of methamphetamine in Cherokee County in August 2014. Smith pleaded guilty June 30. He is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 14.
The June indictment charges JOSE ROLANDO ARROYO BALCAZAR, 36, his sister, JUANNA BALCAZAR, 28, of Boaz, YESENIA MONTUFAR MARTINEZ, 28, MIGUEL MANRIQUEZ, 38, ALLEE THOMAS WALKER, 37, ANTHONY PAUL LEE, 36, BERNUBE PEREZ, 22, and RAFAEL JOSE CASTILLO MORALES, 27, of Chattanooga, Tenn., with the 2013-2015 conspiracy. MELISSA NICASIO, 28, also of Chattanooga, is charged with one count of conspiring with Morales between March and April this year to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine in Etowah and DeKalb Counties.
The three defendants arrested July 9 are Juanna Balcazar, Morales and Nicasio.
"The conspiracy charged here was responsible for supplying the intensely addictive and debilitating drug, methamphetamine, in northeast Alabama for at least two years," Vance said. "Thanks to the many law enforcement agencies that joined together to identify the participants in this organization, including two who were giving orders from within Georgia state prisons, we were able to shut off this illegal supply network. This case exemplifies the mission of the OCDETF Program," she said.
“This case is another great example of local, state and federal law enforcement partners working together to eliminate a significant drug-trafficking operation," Stanton said. "Thanks to all the members of the FBI’s North Alabama Safe Streets Task Force and particularly, the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office and the Gadsden Police Department for their tireless work in bringing this case to fruition.”
Jose and Juanna Balcazar and Manriquez are Mexican nationals in the United States illegally, and Morales is a Honduran national in the country illegally. Jose Balcazar is serving a 30-year sentence in a Georgia state prison on a 2007 methamphetamine trafficking conviction, according to Georgia Department of Corrections records. Manriquez is serving a life sentence in a separate Georgia prison on a 2003 murder conviction, according to the state's Corrections Department records.
Jose Balcazar and Manriquez communicated with each other and with people outside the prison system to carry on the methamphetamine trafficking operation in northeast Alabama, according to testimony last week in federal court in Huntsville during a detention hearing for Morales. Morales, who was living in Chattanooga, was ordered into custody pending trial.
Along with the June indictment's two conspiracy charges, most of the remaining counts charge various defendants with distributing methamphetamine on specific dates between July 2014 and May 2015. Count 19 charges Lee with possessing a firearm -- a .380-caliber Derringer pistol -- in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.
The penalty for the conspiracy counts and the counts of distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine is 10 years to life in prison and a maximum $10 million fine. The minimum prison term for those offenses increases to 20 years if there has been a previous felony drug conviction. The penalty for distributing five grams or more of methamphetamine is five to 40 years in prison and a maximum $5 million fine. That penalty increases to 20 years to life in prison if there has been a prior felony drug conviction. The firearms charge carries a minimum mandatory prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $250,000.
The FBI’s North Alabama Safe Streets Task Force, with participation of the sheriff's offices in Etowah, Cherokee and Dekalb counties, the Gadsden and Heflin Police Departments, and the District Attorney's Offices for Cherokee and Etowah counties investigated the case as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program. The OCDETF Program is a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Its principal mission is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug-trafficking organizations primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply. Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura D. Hodge is prosecuting the case.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.