In anticipation of round-up number two in 2019, in September 24-28, 2018, the Asheville Post of Duty (POD), along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Swain County, Jackson County and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Offices, the Cherokee Indian Police Department, the Asheville Police Department and several other state and local law enforcement partners assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, conducted a multi-state round up involving the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Qualla Boundary (tribal lands) targeting the Willis Weir Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO).
The Weir DTO was the crystal methamphetamine (ICE) and heroin source of supply for numerous lower level traffickers in Western North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The DTO utilized direct Mexican connections in Georgia to import multi-kilogram quantities of ICE and heroin into North and South Carolina via vehicles for further distribution. The shipments were delivered ”hand-to-hand” and frequently involved the transfer of large amounts of bulk currency. Local customers arrested were previously identified as significant traffickers within their respective areas. These targets worked together to finance and import bulk drug shipments. Once received, the bulk shipments were generally broken down pending further distribution to individual customers throughout the Carolinas and on the Tribal Lands.
This operation, entitled "LAST HURRAH," led to the arrest of 76 individuals. The Task Force coordinated systematic charges with the state, Tribal and the federal court system. This investigation had a significant and regional impact, as it dismantled the Weir DTO and several smaller DTOs operating within the Ashville POD area of responsibility. In addition to the 76 arrests, a concurrent two-year investigation spearheaded by the DEA/BIA, led to the previous arrest of 56 additional individuals responsible for trafficking opiates and ICE in Indian Country. The Ashville POD area of responsibility encompasses 16 counties in Western, NC, to include the Cherokee Indian Qualla Boundary. The Qualla Boundry touches six counties within the Asheville POD area of responsibility.
To date, this joint investigation has yielded 140 arrests, a seizure in excess of 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. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement also seized five illegally possessed firearms.
On the date of the take-down, the U.S. Attorney’s Office (Western District of NC), the BIA and DEA, hosted a joint press conference to highlight the cases’ success. William F. Baxley, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte District Office represented the DEA Atlanta Division at the press event. Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Division, provided the following quote for the press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Dangerous and deadly drugs, both licit and illicit, see no boundaries. If the drugs are destined for the inner city, rural suburbia or Indian Country, regardless, the outcome is the same: they destroy dreams, communities, families and lives. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians community, and adjoining areas elsewhere, have felt the sting of drug abuse and addiction. DEA, its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to making our communities safer by removing those who push these deadly substances. This investigation was a huge success because of the spirited efforts between DEA, its federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and state and tribal prosecutors.” Ryan Zinke, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was also present at the press conference. Local and regional television and print news outlets covered the event, which aired the story prominently on their mid-day, evening and nightly news spots.