COVINGTON - Following an investigation that commenced the first of the year sparked by a tip from the U.S. Postal Service, the Covington-Newton County Special Investigations Unit has made three arrests involving large shipments of marijuana into Newton, Rockdale and DeKalb counties.
According to Commander Lt. Philip Bradford, the following suspects are being held in the Newton County Detention Center on charges as follows:
· Yvette Daisy Wong, 32, of 170 Providence Drive, was charged with trafficking in marijuana; identity theft; forgery in the second degree (nine counts); possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; financial transaction fraud; and forgery, possession of fraudulent/fictitious ID (four counts).
· Steven Meadows, 38, whose address on the jail booking report shows 1666 Village Place Circle, Conyers, was charged with trafficking in marijuana; identity theft; forgery in the second degree; possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; financial transaction fraud; forgery, possession of fraudulent/fictitious ID; and giving a false name to a law enforcement officer.
· Shamure Stefon English, whose address on the jail booking report is listed as homeless, 38, was charged with trafficking in marijuana; identity theft; forgery in the second degree; financial transaction fraud; and forgery, possession of fraudulent/fictitious ID.
Also lining up to bring charges are the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and various law enforcement agencies in south Georgia and New York.
"We learn something new every time we open a folder or answer a phone," Bradford said of the operation that used private mail businesses as drops for packages containing 15 to 25 pounds of marijuana. After several months of investigation, officers aren't sure exactly who the three really are as it appears they've all served time under fictitious names.
Bradford said Mail Box Plus on Salem Road was frequently used by the trio. Boxes were shipped there to a mailbox rented by Wong, which also listed Meadows as being allowed to pick up mail.
The two who are believed to be originally from Jamaica and have lived in Georgia three years. At the time of their arrest, they were living at 170 Providence Drive, in the Weatherford Community, an upscale subdivision off Butler Bridge Road. English is believed to be an accomplice and Newton County Detention Center records show his address as "homeless."
"We found a birth certificate for him from the Virgin Islands, but we don't know if it's authentic," Bradford said. "He is currently out on bond under a fake name from a small county down near Savannah, which had him on trafficking in marijuana and fleeing and attempting to elude."
Bradford said packages were picked up from various private mailing businesses about every 10 days to two weeks.
"On March 21 we had enough probable cause to execute a search warrant on a package at Mail Box Plus on Salem Road," Bradford said. "A canine alerted on the package and we opened it and found about 25 pounds of marijuana in this particular package."
Bradford said the plan was to reseal the package so Wong and Meadows wouldn't know drug agents were on to them.
"She came into the store while I was in the back trying to get the package resealed," Bradford said with a laugh. "The store closed at 3 p.m. and it was just a few minutes until 3 and she was there waiting for her package."
Apparently the ruse worked. She traveled back to her house with the marijuana as agents had determined was her custom. A search warrant was then executed at the home where agents found English, two more 25-pound shipments of marijuana, as well as weapons and counterfeit $100 bills.
The only snag was that Meadows was not at home and Wong informed them he was in New York.
"I phoned him and told him the police were at his house and had found marijuana and he needed to come back here and straighten it out," Bradford said. "He said he'd be home on Monday, and I told him I'd leave my business card on the table for him to call me, but I didn't expect he would." And, he didn't.
"Meanwhile, we learned that Meadows had opened up another account in the Newton Plaza UPS Store, and we subpoenaed those records and found another 25-pound package," Bradford said, adding that including the marijuana located in Rockdale, charges would be brought on more than 100 pounds of marijuana.
He estimated the street value of the marijuana to be between $800 and $1,200 a pound if bought in bulk. In smaller increments, it would be much more valuable.
"They were shipping about 80 to 100 pounds every couple of weeks," he said, which translated into roughly $80,000 to $100,000.
On March 30 Bradford said Meadows was located and agents asked for assistance from the Georgia State Patrol to arrest him.
Bond was denied by Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson for both Wong and English. Meadows has not yet had a bond hearing, Bradford said.
"This was Special Agent Paul Madsen's first case with us after being assigned with the DEA in Atlanta. He did a good job and we broke him in SIU-style," Bradford said.
Bradford said since SIU took over drug cases from EMDET, there has been no let up in drug enforcement and cooperation between Rockdale and Newton counties is continuing.
"The last two years was dead on with the numbers from our EMDET days. We averaged about 125 to 135 cases and that's what we've done here the last couple of years, and we're making more trafficking cases. You can't make a more serious case than trafficking unless you go federal," he said.
"SIU is run with seized drug money. The only thing citizens pay for is manpower, which they paid for at EMDET with each agency paying their officers' salaries, but using federal money to operate. Now we use seized drug funds to operate. (Covington Police Chief) Stacey Cotton has said it numerous times. We're actually able to do better because with federal funds, you're limited to how you use the money. You can only make drug cases. We've made other cases," he said, pointing to 40 arrests at a local flea market where counterfeit name brands were being sold and sensitive theft cases.
"That's why we're called 'Special Investigations Unit' - we work any type of case," he said.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.