ABINGDON — A combined force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have taken down a major crack cocaine distribution ring.
The investigation, which took over one and a half years, culminated Wednesday with the unsealing of a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Abingdon. The complaint charges 51 individuals with being involved in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute powder cocaine and crack cocaine.
“We will continue to fight the sale and distribution of crack and powder cocaine and hold those drug dealers responsible for their crimes,” said U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee in announcing the unsealing of the complaint on Wednesday. “I want to thank all the federal, state and local law enforcement officials who undertook this very difficult and very wide-ranging investigation.”
According to the criminal complaint, in January 2007 law enforcement agents from multiple agencies began targeting a large-scale crack cocaine distribution organization operating in Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee and North Carolina. Prosecutors allege the drug-trafficking organization had been operating in the region for a number of years and was headed by the members of Kantstop Records Inc., a music production company based out of Burlington, N.C.
Ultimately, prosecutors allege the drug trafficking organization grew to actively involve at least 51 people in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina in the distribution of crack cocaine.
According to evidence discovered through the course of the investigation, Kantstop Records was a music production company incorporated in the state of Tennessee in 2003 by Derrick Lamont Evans (aka “Shank”), 34, of Gray, Tenn., and Bryant Kelly Pride (aka “Pride”), 36, of Bristol, Va.
Evans was listed as the president of Kantstop Records, and Pride was listed as the executive vice president and chief executive officer.
The production company sponsored the musicians Marcus Andrew Watkins (aka “Sparkz”), 30; Andre Lamont Watkins (“Huff da Author”), 30; and Tyree Lamar Slade (“Ovious Mcfly”), 26, all of Burlington, N.C., who made up the music group “Fam 1st.” Charles Jermaine King, 31, of Burlington, was also sponsored by Kantstop Records and performed under the name “Zig-Lah.”
Based upon the investigation, prosecutors allege it became clear to law enforcement officials that the musicians associated with Kantstop Records had been distributing crack cocaine in the Bristol, Va., region since at least 2003. In addition, investigators allege that musicians sponsored by Kantstop Records consistently recruited friends and associates from the Burlington area to transport and distribute large quantities of crack cocaine into a geographic region that ranged from Sullivan County in Tennessee north to Washington and Russell counties in Virginia.
Furthermore, prosecutors allege many individuals from Virginia and Tennessee were recruited by Pride, Evans and others associated with Kantstop Records to serve as street-level dealers of crack cocaine, to act as drivers used to transport crack cocaine throughout the organization’s distribution area, and to provide locations at which powder cocaine was sold, stored and transformed into crack cocaine and sold.
Prosecutors allege that Kantstop Records was used by members of the drug trafficking organization as a means to launder the proceeds earned from the distribution of more than 100 kilograms of crack cocaine in the Bristol region. Prosecutors said that throughout the course of the investigation more than $25,000 in U.S. currency, numerous vehicles, firearms and multiple ounces of cocaine and crack cocaine have been seized by law enforcement agencies.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Lee of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Abingdon will prosecute the case.