More than 108 people in the Midlands were charged Tuesday with federal
drug, weapon and immigration violations in the states largest-ever federal sweep of gang activity.FBI Special Agent in charge, Dave Thomas says this was a huge undertaking. “It’s the largest scale investigation of this type that the FBI has done in the state of South Carolina with this many organizations, this many wire taps, this many people targeted in one investigation.”
Thomas, along with U.S. Attorney Walter Wilkins, and a group of federal ,state and local law enforcement agencies announced that what started as a gang task force investigation, revealed a widespread drug conspiracy across the Midlands. Wilkins says it all led back to Mexican drug cartels. “We’ve arrested eleven individuals that were here illegally in the country from Mexico who have direct ties to the Sinaloa cartel and the Los Zetas in Mexico,” said Wilkins.
So far, investigators have seized more than a $1 million in drugs and cash, plus firearms. According to Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, “One of the problems we have in the state system is that cases are backed up for years before they go to trial which puts the drug dealer–as you arrest them they come to jail–back out on the street dealing immediately.
“In this situation, these will be dealt with under the speedy trial laws of the United States Government within 90 days and, therefore, we’ll get major drug dealers off the street right away.”
The arrests began early Tuesday morning with those arrested appearing in federal court that same day. Sheriff Metts says the swiftness of prosecution was assured by the federal government.
U.S. Attorney Wilkins says that this prosecution in two counties, Richland and Lexington, is just the beginning for this kind of multi-level law enforcement work against gangs in South Carolina. “This problem is not unique to Richland and Lexington Counties,” said Wilkins. “It’s all over the state and our state is not unique to the rest of the nation. South Carolina is fortunate to have a wonderful state and a very safe state, but if we don’t be proactive and we don’t take this problem head-on early on, we may end up with a very severe gang problem.”
That is what this kind of task force was designed to fight says the US Attorney.
Sheriff Metts says that the prison system is overcrowded already and it is a concern but there will be space for these alleged gang members. “It’s always a concern when you have an overcrowded facility like most of us do in South Carolina, but I think once we can arrest an individual who is dealing drugs or committing violent crimes, it doesn’t matter how much jail space you don’t have, you find room for them and we will in this case.”