On the heels of the contraband cigarette conspiracy arrests in Maryland last Wednesday, federal investigators in DC shortly thereafter launched a large scale arrest of members of an alleged drug conspiracy. Eleven have been arrested on federal charges stemming from an ongoing investigation into a drug trafficking organization that allegedly distributed large amounts of heroin and cocaine in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. According to the press release, over 3.5 kilograms of cocaine and over 2 kilograms of heroin have been seized as a result of the investigation, along with more than $68,000 in cash and at least five firearms. Two of the thirteen indicted have yet to be arrested.

The arrests, which took place on December 12, 2013, followed the return of an indictment by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. While the arrests were taking place, 26 search warrants were executed in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Several firearms, cocaine and heroin, jewelry worth over $60,000 and thousands in cash were allegedly seized. It is also alleged that evidence of an apparent identity theft operation involving hundreds of credit cards, social security cards and driver’s licenses was found in one person’s residence.

Those arrested include Lester Pryor, 62, of Washington, D.C., who is alleged to have supplied cocaine and heroin to the other defendants named in the indictment. The others include Patrick Avent, 45, of Stafford, Va.; George Ball, 65, of Washington, D.C.; Brandon Beale, 58, of Washington, D.C.; Aubrey Bennett, 61, of Washington, D.C.; James Burkley, 59, of Washington, D.C; Anthony McDuffie, 50, of Washington, D.C.; Chris Merriweather, 47, of Washington, D.C.; Earl Owens, 56, of Bowie, Md.; Tyrone Payton, 55, of Temple Hills, Md.; and Kevin Whitman, 54, of Washington, D.C.

There are a couple of things in this case worth mentioning. First of all, the amount of drugs that was seized, approximately 5.5 kilos, is not what one would consider a “large” drug bust. Further, the small amount of cash and the fact that the indictment only spans this year, leads to an assumption that in the scheme of things in the drug world, this is a pretty small operation. The press release indicates as much when it states that the arrests and search warrants were executed as part of an ongoing investigation.

My guess would be that the government is starting at the bottom of the alleged conspiracy and hoping to work its way up to the top. By going after a smaller operation first, the government can use its leverage by offering plea deals in exchange for information as to members of the next highest level of the conspiracy. While not the best case scenario for those arrested last week, it certainly gives them a bargaining chip in working out a beneficial plea agreement.

The author of this blog is Margaret S. Ververis, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters with the law firm of Ferrari & Associates, PC. If you have any questions please contact her at 202-440-2581 or ververis@ferrariassociatespc.com.

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