Skip to main content
Press Release

Masterminds in four ton, million dollar cross-country drug conspiracy sentenced

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Indiana
USA Minkler continues to emphasize the importance of OCDETF investigations

Indianapolis – Josh J. Minkler, the United States Attorney, announced today that Kelly Joe Spinks, Jr and Joseph Pickett, Sr., were sentenced in United States District Court in Indianapolis by the Honorable Tanya Walton Pratt, to terms of imprisonment of 140 months’ and 135 months’ imprisonment, respectively, for their roles in a drug conspiracy in which over four tons of marijuana were obtained and distributed in the Southern District of Indiana.

Spinks and Pickett were prosecuted in an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Trafficking Force (OCDETF) investigation dubbed “Operation Northern Exposure” which was conducted by  the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration – Indianapolis District Office, Internal Revenue Service, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Beech Grove Police Department.  The two-year investigation resulted in the indictment of seven defendants on violations of the Federal Controlled Substance Act, Money Laundering and other charges. 

Over twenty search warrants served in the case led to discovery and seizure of over $4,000,000.00 in U.S. currency, 181 firearms, 31 vehicles, 2 motor homes, and 16 motorcycles.

The investigation led to the discovery of an Indianapolis, Indiana based, large scale, cross-country marijuana drug trafficking organization that was run by JOSEPH PICKETT, SR., and KELLY JOE SPINKS, JR., and operated from 2015 through March of 2017.

The investigation revealed that beginning in 2015 and continuing through March of 2017, JOSEPH PICKETT, SR., KELLY JOE SPINKS, JR., DARRELL PICKETT and others traveled to California and obtained anywhere between 100 pounds (45.45 kilograms) and 700 pounds (318.18 kilograms) of marijuana per trip from sources of supply in California.  These trips to California occurred roughly every two to three weeks during the previously indicated period of time.  The marijuana was then transported from California to Indianapolis, Indiana where it was stored and ultimately redistributed by PICKETT, SR., SPINKS, JR., DARRELL PICKETT and others, including SHEILA STEPP and WILLIAM BELLEW, JR.

“One of this Administration’s priorities is to dismantle organized crime operations like the Pickett crew,” said Josh J. Minkler, United States Attorney.  “The fruits of this complex joint investigation including the seizure of significant assets and the Court’s sentence should serve as a warning bell to all.”

The SPINKS-PICKETT drug trafficking organization procured and distributed over four tons (3,636 kilograms) of marijuana during the course of the charged conspiracy. 

Other defendants sentenced in the case include:

Darrell Pickett – 60 months’ imprisonment

Sheila Stepp  - 20 months’ imprisonment

William Bellew, Jr. – 20 months’ imprisonment

Leonard Allen – 10 months’ imprisonment

According to Assistant United States Attorney Barry D. Glickman, Deputy Chief of the Drug and Violent Crime Unit, who prosecuted the case for the United States, Judge Pratt ordered both Spinks and Pickett to serve five-year terms of supervised release at the conclusion of their terms of imprisonment.

Updated March 11, 2019