Multi-agency drug investigation leads to prosecution, conviction of 18 people

Published 9:04 am Saturday, November 20, 2021

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina partnered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Federal Bureau of Investigation Safe Streets Unit (FBI), Wilmington Police Department’s Gang and Narcotics Units, the New Hanover and Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Gang and Narcotics Units and the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute Gangster Disciple gang members and a high-volume heroin/fentanyl operation supplying the New Hanover and Brunswick County areas from New York. The ensuing investigation – named Operation Tiny Toons – led to the investigation, prosecution and conviction of 18 defendants, according to a November 12 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina.

The release included information from court documents, evidence presented in court and other information on some of the defendants:

Darion “Pluck” Graham, 31, was sentenced on February 16, 2021 to 365 months imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1000 grams or more of heroin; two counts of distribution of a quantity of heroin (aiding and abetting) and possess with intent to distribute of 100 grams or more of heroin (aiding and abetting).

Between October 2015 and May 2017, the Brunswick and New Hanover County sheriff’s offices along with the Wilmington Police Department made several controlled purchases of more than 90 grams of heroin from Graham and persons working at his direction in various locations in Wilmington, stated the release.

“On August 29, 2017, the Wilmington Police Department and the ATF served a search warrant on Graham’s residence on Summertime Lane in Wilmington. Graham was on house arrest at the time of the search for pending North Carolina state charges,” stated the release. “Law enforcement found a small quantity of heroin and fentanyl, packaging material for narcotics distribution, and more than $13,000. Graham was detained exiting the bathroom with the toilet running. Law enforcement determined that Graham had managed to flush a large quantity of heroin down the toilet while they were making a forced entry into the residence.”

From February until May 2019, the Wilmington Police Department and the FBI made several controlled purchases totaling 30 grams of heroin from Graham, according to the release. On June 28, 2019, the Wilmington Police Department and the FBI served a search warrant on a River Front Place Apartment, which was rented in the name of Kayla Jackson’s mother. Graham and Jackson arrived at the residence, fled upon seeing the police and were arrested in a wooded area near the apartment.

“Law enforcement found 761 grams of a heroin/fentanyl mixture and more than $16,000. Jackson had pending heroin charges in state court at the time of her arrest.  Qwanelle Ruffin was also staying at the apartment and was arrested on the same day,” stated the release. “During the investigation, law enforcement discovered that Graham had more than 10 people distributing heroin and/or fentanyl for him. Graham was supplying and working with members of the Gangster Disciples in Wilmington. Graham’s heroin was coming primarily from New York. Graham was responsible for the distribution of more than 7 kilograms of heroin, more than 750 grams of a heroin/fentanyl mixture, and a quantity of a heroin/methamphetamine mixture.”

According to law enforcement, Graham was one of the largest heroin/fentanyl suppliers in New Hanover County at the time of his federal indictment.

Kayla “Lady K” Jackson was sentenced November 9, 2021 to 85 months imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin; possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin (aiding and abetting).

“On March 6, 2017, a Wilmington Police Officer stopped Jackson for a traffic violation. The officer asked her to exit the vehicle due to the odor of marijuana. Instead, Jackson fled at a high rate of speed, lost control of her car and crashed into another car,” stated the release. “Jackson then fled on foot. Law enforcement found heroin and PCP in the car. Law enforcement received information during the investigation that Jackson drove Graham to deliver heroin including a ‘golf ball’ sized amount of heroin to Qwanelle Ruffin.”

Qwanelle “El Patron” Ruffin, 28, was sentenced on April 23, 2021 to 132 months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin; three counts of distribution of a quantity of heroin and aiding and abetting; seven counts of distribution of a quantity of heroin; and possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and aiding and abetting. Between November 2018 and June 2019, the Wilmington Police Department, assisted by the FBI, conducted numerous controlled purchases of heroin and a heroin/fentanyl mixture from Ruffin and co-conspirators that he had deliver for him, according to the release.

“Ruffin had people delivering for him in part because he was recovering from a gunshot wound. The investigation uncovered that Ruffin had also been packaging and storing heroin for distribution at residences on Spring Street and 13th Street in Wilmington,” stated the release. “Ruffin had been robbed of heroin on two occasions but continued to distribute heroin. Ruffin was also arrested for his role in the heroin/fentanyl mixture that was seized on June 28, 2019. According to a civil injunction, Ruffin was a member of the Gangster Disciples.”

Maurice “Gotti” Bellamy, 29, was sentenced on April 23, 2021 to 132 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and distribution of a quantity of heroin. Law enforcement made a controlled purchase of heroin from Bellamy on June 11, 2019. The investigation uncovered that Bellamy was involved in the distribution of more than two kilograms of heroin. According to a civil injunction filed in 2017 against the Folk Nation-720 Gangster Disciples in New Hanover County Superior Court, Bellamy was a member of the Gangster Disciples.

Alphonso “Trick Rick” McClendon, 27, was sentenced on April 23, 2021 to 66 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin; distribution of a quantity of heroin and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. In May 2019, law enforcement made a controlled purchase of a mixture of heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine from McClendon. On June 26, 2019, the Wilmington Police Department served a search warrant at McClendon’s residence. According to the release, law enforcement found 35 grams of a mixture of heroin/fentanyl, paperwork related to the Gangster Disciples and a Glock magazine. According to law enforcement and the civil injunction, McClendon was a member of the Gangster Disciples.

Corbin Juran was sentenced on February 27, 2020 to 84 months in prison for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and distribution of a quantity of heroin. On May 1, 2019, the Wilmington Police Department responded to a call at a motel. Officers observed Juran and a female walking from the dumpster behind the motel, according to the release. While speaking with Juran, law enforcement confirmed that he had an active arrest warrant from Onslow County.

“Juran fled as officers attempted to pat him down for weapons. Officers recovered a .22 revolver that had been in Juran’s waistband and a small quantity of methamphetamine, which he had thrown down. Juran told law enforcement that he was a member of the Folk Nation,” stated the release. “On May 24, 2019, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office Gang and Narcotics Units received information that Juran was going to pick up heroin from a source of supply at a mini-mart in Wilmington. Law enforcement observed Juran enter the store and exit quickly. Detectives performed a traffic stop on the car, and Juran was found in possession of 500 bags containing a mixture of heroin, fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl. Juran told detectives that he had picked up heroin from this source multiple times over the last couple of months.” According to law enforcement, Juran was a member of the Gangster Disciples.

Terrance Fisher was sentenced August 27, 2020 to 112 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin; distribution of a quantity of heroin; and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. The FBI Safe Street Task Force and the Wilmington Police Department’s Narcotics and Gang Units conducted a controlled purchase of heroin from Fisher on February 19, 2019 in the area of Market Street in Wilmington.

On February 20, 2019, the FBI Task Force and Wilmington Police Detectives conducted a search of a room at the Suburban Extended Stay in Wilmington where Fisher had been staying. “Law enforcement found a quantity of heroin in the room. Fisher was not present at the time of the search; instead, Fisher was visiting his North Carolina State Probation Officer,” stated the release. “Law enforcement arrested Fisher when he left the visit with his probation officer and found heroin that he had given someone to hold for him during the visit.” According to law enforcement, Fisher was a member of the Gangster Disciples.

Shamon “Toe” Kinston, 41, was sentenced August 23, 2019, to 90 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and 500 grams or more of cocaine, distribution of a quantity of heroin and possession with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and a quantity of crack cocaine. On August 20, 2018, the Wilmington Police Department searched Kinston’s residence and found 71 grams of heroin, approximately a half an ounce of crack cocaine and more than $6,000 in cash, according to the release.

“Prior to the search of the residence, Wilmington Police Officers attempted to perform a traffic stop on Kinston,” stated the release. “Kinston refused to stop and took police on a high-speed chase.  Kinston ultimately wrecked his motorcycle and was arrested. During the investigation, law enforcement learned that the items seized were a part of a kilogram of cocaine and 200 grams of heroin that Kinston had been provided for distribution in New Hanover County.”

Miguel Angel Ramos, 31, was sentenced February 17, 2021 to 156 months in prison for distribution of a quantity of fentanyl. The Wilmington Police Department and the FBI Safe Streets Unit made two controlled purchases from Ramos in July 2019, according to the release. Ramos had prior state convictions for possession with the intent deliver a controlled substance and trafficking in heroin/opium.

Latwon “Birdy Bird” James, 40, was sentenced December 1, 2020 to a total of 288 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl and 28 grams or more of cocaine base (crack), distribution of a quantity of heroin and fentanyl, possession with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, fentanyl and more than 28 grams of cocaine base (crack). “From July 2018 to July 2019, law enforcement made controlled purchases from James on multiple occasions involving heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. In addition, James possessed with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, fentanyl and 28 grams or more of cocaine base (crack),” stated the release. “James was on federal supervised release at the time that he committed these offenses.”

Sherrod Crum, a target of the investigation, was murdered in Greensboro in May 2017.

The New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office filed a civil injunction against members of the Gangster Disciples (17 CVS 4184) in 2017. According to the release, the court filing contained a great deal of information collected by the Wilmington Police Department Gang Unit.

This is part of Operation Tiny Toons which is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. “OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launders, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks,” stated the release.

G. Norman Acker III, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, made the announcement. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Safe Streets Section, the Wilmington Police Department Gang and Narcotics Sections and the Brunswick and New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Severo prosecuted.

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