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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A Charlotte federal jury delivered guilty verdicts today against three defendants charged with marijuana trafficking conspiracy and related offenses, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Evelyn LaChapelle, 28, Natalia Wade, 30, and Corvain Cooper, 33, all from California, were convicted following a four-day trial before U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr, which ended today.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins is joined in making today’s announcement by Brock D. Nicholson, Special Agent in Charge of ICE/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Atlanta and the Carolinas and Chief Rodney D. Monroe of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
According to court records, LaChapelle, Wade, and Cooper were initially charged on January 15, 2013 with marijuana trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy in a multiple-defendant criminal bill of indictment. The indictment was later superseded to include a third charge of structuring financial transactions through banking institutions to avoid reporting requirements. According to evidence presented at trial, the marijuana was shipped to the Charlotte area in commercial crate shipments and overnight packages. Trial evidence revealed that the conspiracy involved more than 35 tons of marijuana being shipped to Charlotte and millions of dollars of laundered proceeds funneled back to the sources of supply in California.
The defendants were convicted of all three charges. At sentencing, LaChapelle and Wade face a mandatory minimum of five and a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $4 million fine for the marijuana trafficking conspiracy charge. Because of his prior conviction and the drug weight for which he has been held liable, Cooper faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison and a $20 million fine for the same charge. All three defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy charge and the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property laundered as a monetary fine. For the structuring of financial transactions offense in a pattern exceeding $100,000 in a 12-month period, all three defendants face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The defendants will remain in federal custody until their sentencing hearing which will be scheduled by the court at a later date.
This prosecution is part of an extensive Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that has resulted in the conviction of more than 50 defendants for marijuana trafficking, money laundering, and firearms violations over the past four years.
OCDETF is a joint federal, state and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking and is the nation’s primary tool for disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, targeting national and regional level drug trafficking organizations and coordinating the necessary law enforcement entities and resources to disrupt or dismantle the targeted criminal organization and seize their assets.
The investigation was led by HSI and CMPD, with the assistance of several other law enforcement agencies, to include the Gastonia Police Department, the Concord Police Department, the Mooresville Police Department, the Pineville Police Department, the Huntersville Police Department, the Kannapolis Police Department, the Cornelius Police Department, the Waxhaw Police Department, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office, the Union County Sheriff’s Office, and the Beverly Hills and Culver City, California Police Departments. The prosecution for the government was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.