‘Operation Cookout’ nets 35 arrests

Published 10:25 pm Thursday, August 29, 2019

Law enforcement officers on Thursday announced the arrest of 35 defendants involved in a major drug trafficking operation, part of which took place in Suffolk and Carrollton.

A total of 39 defendants are indicted in “Operation Cookout.” The arrests were made Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

A federal prosecutor stated in a press release that the massive drug ring included enough fentanyl to kill more than 14 million people, as well as large amounts of heroin, cocaine and cocaine base.

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“This massive interdiction of narcotics … is proof positive of the power and strength of federal, state, and local law enforcement collaboration,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This operation, through its seizure of scores of kilograms of illicit narcotics, saved lives in the Eastern District and elsewhere. Any day where we can do that is particularly meaningful and impactful.”

According to the 106-count indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury on Aug. 14 and unsealed Thursday, the 39 co-conspirators were involved in an alleged large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy that began in March 2016. The co-conspirators participated in various criminal acts throughout the alleged conspiracy, including armed drug distribution, while assuming and carrying out different roles such as a supplier, packager, transporter, financier, distributor, and facilitator throughout the life of the alleged drug trafficking ring.

Among those indicted was Charles Anthony Eley, also known as “Dirty,” who at some point during the scheme lived at a residence in the 6900 block of Crittenden Road, according to court documents.

Other locations where drugs were distributed included a parking lot of a business in the 13000 block of Carrollton Blvd. in Carrollton and a trailer in the 12000 block of Teal Court in Carrollton.

“The narcotics organization identified by our team reached far and wide, spanning state lines and crossing all the way to and from our southern border,” said Michael K. Lamonea, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Norfolk. “This indictment, and the 106 counts within, demonstrates clearly that the dangerous and illegal smuggling operations from the border limitlessly stretch into the United States and reach directly into our neighborhoods and communities.”

The indictment alleges that the defendants and unindicted co-conspirators would purchase and receive narcotics from suppliers in Mexico, California and New York, and would arrange for heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and cocaine base to be transported to and within the Eastern District of Virginia using hidden traps in privately owned vehicles, couriers, semi-trailers, trucks and recreational vehicles.

It was part of the conspiracy that the defendants and co-conspirators would utilize various locations throughout Hampton Roads to possess and prepare for distribution of the drugs and to meet and discuss previous and future narcotics transactions. These various locations include houses and parking lots of businesses located not only in Suffolk and Carrollton but also in Newport News, Hampton, Yorktown, Lawrenceville, South Hill and Richmond.

According to the indictment, throughout the life of the drug trafficking ring, the co-conspirators used at least 94 different telecommunication devices such as pre-paid cell phones, Facebook, and encrypted communications apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp to conduct the day-to-day operations, including negotiating prices and arranging locations for purchasing and selling the drugs. Some of co-conspirators changed devices on a regular basis in an effort to thwart law enforcement surveillance. Typically, the cell phone numbers that were used were in pre-paid cell phones that did not need a subscriber’s name.

“The DEA will continue to prioritize operations like this one, which target the criminal organizations that bring dangerous drugs and violence into our communities here in Virginia,” said Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Field Division. “We stand united with our outstanding federal, state and local law enforcement counterparts in this endeavor.”