Knoxville (WVLT) - Twelve people face federal charges in what prosecutors call a huge conspiracy that sold cocaine, crack, ecstasy and marijuana in Atlanta and East Tennessee.
A conspiracy brought down a week ago, when the DEA raided the Knoxville homes of the alleged ringleader, 30-year-old Johnnie “Bro” Martin and 29-year-old Tavares Smith.
Smith, they say, helped them bust the Atlanta connection after his own arrest.
Volunteer TV’s Gordon Boyd digs deeper into what, if true, could be a complex, regional operation.
The indictments tell only part of it, but they suggest the technology that built it, cell phones, may have brought it down.
“Money to throw around. They were paying people to do just yard work and stuff in their house,” Elizabeth Francis figured her new next door neighbor Johnnie “Bro” Martin was living kind of large.
Considering most of Cumberland Estates subdivision is working class.
But exactly a week ago, “a bunch of agents came with DEA on them and I kind of assumed it had something to do with drugs.”
Lots of them.
Federal drug agents and Knoxville police say their search of the house at 3916 Deerfield Avenue, turned up $50,000 grand in cash and a .40 caliber rifle.
“I've never heard of anything like that going on in this neighborhood,” Elizabeth says.
A house at 1701 Rugby Avenue, turned up $95,000 in cash, Johnnie Martin, 3 other people and agents say about a three-quarters of a kilo worth of cocaine.
Fruit of cell-phone taps they claim prove “Bro” Martin and his alleged crew could buy, sell, deliver and conceal 20 to 25 kilos of cocaine in Knoxville a month.
“Unless or until you've had an opportunity to see what a document says or what a photograph or what you heard on tape, it's very presumptive to jump to any conclusions,” says Dennis Francis, attorney for Johnnie Martin.
“They wouldn't go somewhere where they know that the market is flooded with product, because they can't make money,” Oak Ridge Police Chief David Beams believes it's more than sitting on the crossroads of two interstates.
East Tennessee's lower-profile street gang presence may be a magnet. For if there's anything a drug dealer doesn't want, it's competition.
“Where drug trafficking is known to be controlled by certain street gangs, it's very difficult for a new guy on the block, he's gonna come in and meet resistance,” Chief Beams says.
Oak Ridge Police didn't work this drug probe, but the DEA agent who led it once worked here.
“We believe we have a significant problem here and we're no different than I think any other city in East Tennessee or the Southeast or the United States,” Chief Beams wonders whether anybody has the magic bullet to change that.
But for the mom of 6-year-old Gavin and 17 month old Aiden, the concern strikes closer. “I was scared for that kind of stuff going on with my children,” says Elizabeth. “And I know there's lots of children , in the neighborhood.”
All twelve suspects are detained, no bond. Martin will get to see the evidence against him in twelve days.
The bigger picture, whether these indictments fly or die is that police believe a new supplier likely will step up to fill whatever void this creates.
A demand so great, that Anderson County soon will have its own drug court.