BUNCOMBE COUNTY, NC (WYFF) - A joint undercover operation has shut down a major drug distribution network on Native American land in Western North Carolina, according to news release from the Department of Justice.
The investigation by the Department of Interior’s Opioid Reduction Task Force, in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Cherokee Indian Police Department and multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, began in March 2018 in and around the Qualla Boundary.
The Qualla Boundary is territory held as a land trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. As a trust, the land is not a reservation. It was purchased by the tribe in the 1870s, and subsequently placed under federal protection. Enrolled members of the Tribe of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians can buy, own, and sell the land.
In addition to the 76 arrests announced Thursday, a concurrent two-year investigation led by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Division of Drug Enforcement and the DEA yielded the previous arrests of 56 other people accused of trafficking opiates and methamphetamine, bringing the number of arrests to 132.
Investigators seized more than 3.8 pounds of heroin and fentanyl; more than 18 pounds of methamphetamine; more than 270 fentanyl and oxycodone tablets; and more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, with a combined street value of over $1.82 million, according to the release.
“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a community that has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic. Drug distribution, drug-fueled crimes and drug abuse pose a grave threat to the safety, stability, cultural preservation and well-being of the tribal community,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray. “The Justice Department and my office are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to stem the flow of drugs onto the Qualla Boundary and to reduce the opioid abuse epidemic that has devastated Indian country.”
Twelve of the arrested suspects from North Carolina face federal drug charges, including Derek Driver, 26, Kenneth Griffin, 51, Kandace Griffin, 29, and Dee Anna Wike, 45, all of Cherokee; David Fisher, 56, Timothy Grady, 43, Kevin Huskey, 47, Saryna Miller, 22, and Jeremy Morton, 21, all of Bryson City; and David Smith, 30, and Dontavius Cox, 26, of Sylva.
Javier Perez, 27, of Norcross, Georgia, also faces federal drug charges.