Officials at the US Drug Enforcement Agency have filed criminal charges against four South Carolina men accused of running a “clandestine” drug lab in a residential neighborhood near Lake Wylie.
The complaint is related to what local and state officials have described as the largest-ever fentanyl bust in York County, SC
The seizure and arrests led to a press conference in October attended by US Senator Lindsey Graham, US Representative Ralph Norman, law enforcement officials from York County and Rock Hill, and York County prosecutors.
More than 60 pounds of fentanyl along with cocaine and methamphetamine were seized from a trailer on Golden Pond Drive near Lake Wylie on October 19, according to an affidavit filed by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in federal court.
Lake Wylie straddles the North Carolina-South Caroline boundary with some portions in York County, SC and some in Mecklenburg County, NC
The DEA criminal complaint, signed by US Judge Shiva Hodges, alleges that Quonzy Lanard Hope, Thomas Anthony Perry, Javaris Latrey Johnson and Timario Martez Gayton conspired to distribute the drugs and possessed the drugs with the intent to distribute them.
The charge is federal crimes.
In an email to The Herald this week, federal prosecutors confirmed that the complaint against the four suspects had been filed in federal court. Derek Shoemake, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Colombia, said the federal complaint had not yet been served on the suspects as of Wednesday.
The federal prosecutor’s office did not comment further on the ad.
All four suspects remain in the York County Jail without bail, according to jail records, and Trent Faris, spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office.
Federal fentanyl laws stricter than SC laws
The federal charges come in addition to South Carolina state’s drug trafficking and distribution charges. All four suspects have been charged by SC officers after they were arrested at the lab last month, federal records show.
According to 16 Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, chief prosecutor for York County, South Carolina currently has no law specifically dealing with the trafficking of such large quantities of fentanyl. Possession of fentanyl with intent to market under state law in South Carolina would take a maximum of 15 years — regardless of the amount.
According to an emailed statement from Shoemake, the federal conviction charges would result in life imprisonment.
“It makes sense that the federal government would be interested in this case,” Brackett said.
A “secret laboratory” with drugs, money
In federal documents and at a York County news conference, officials said the seizure and arrests took place at a trailer home. Seven pill presses were seized along with the drugs and more than $50,000 in cash.
DEA agents told a federal judge in the documents that no one lived in the trailer but that it operated as a “clandestine laboratory,” the document said.
During surveillance, police saw all four suspects enter the trailer, and all four were inside when police searched the trailer, the DEA said. A suspect tried to escape through a window, the affidavit said.
A pill press was plugged into the wall, police said.
“In the bathroom off the left bedroom, agents found the bathtub filled with a suspected mixture of fentanyl and (chemical) binder,” the DEA statement said.
According to the DEA affidavit, officers found additional drugs in the toilet that were believed to be trying to flush away evidence during the raid.
Thousands of dollars were found on an armrest of a couch and a kitchen counter, according to the affidavit.
According to the DEA, two guns were found in the trailer and two in the suspects’ cars.
The amount of drugs found was so large and potentially dangerous that a hazardous materials team was called, documents show.
A potentially massive drug operation
The complaint and testimonies from other officials allege a massive drug operation in the southeastern United States that DEA and York County drug agents were investigating.
The federal criminal complaint revealed a year-long investigation into alleged high-profile deals.
“Since January 2021, investigators from the DEA and YCMDEU (York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit) have been conducting an investigation focused on the manufacture, trafficking and illegal sale of fentanyl pills in York County, South Carolina,” the statement said affidavit.
The drugs had a street value of millions of dollars and were allegedly linked to drug cartels, according to documents, court testimony and public statements by officials.
The DEA affidavit claims confidential informants had been making drug purchases for months, and surveillance showed drug trafficking and drug production in which at least one suspect wore a gas mask while in the vicinity of fentanyl.
Fentanyl, Overdose and Public Danger
Police and prosecutors say fentanyl has led to overdoses and deaths caused by the use of unregulated, illegal pills.
Drug dealers mix fentanyl with other illegal drugs — in powder and tablet forms — to encourage addiction and attract regular customers, the DEA said in the August statement.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA says fentanyl is inexpensive, widely available, highly addictive — and deadly.
Fentanyl has created a new level of danger in the Charlotte area, just across the York County state line, and is the most prevalent illicit drug locally, police told The Charlotte Observer earlier this year.
“Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat our nation has ever faced,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in an Aug. 19 news release about the nationwide fentanyl problem.
Where are things now?
All four suspects remain in the York County Jail on South Carolina state drug charges and separate detention by the DEA, records show.
Two of the suspects were denied bail in court hearings against the South Carolina state indictment earlier this month at the Moss Justice Center in York.
It is not known when either of the four will next appear in court in York County or in a federal court in Columbia on the DEA drug complaint.
The DEA affidavit, filed and signed by a judge, was reviewed by a federal prosecutor at the US Attorney’s Office in Colombia, according to documents.
This story was originally published Nov 25, 2022 8:01 am.