Authorities: Dozens arrested in Miss. meth ring

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 25, 2009

Authorities broke up a methamphetamine distribution ring based in Mississippi that had connections to at least three other states, arresting dozens of suspects on Tuesday.

The ring characterized as the state’s largest was based in Rankin County in central Mississippi and distributed up to 50 pounds of Mexican meth per month throughout Mississippi, said Joel Reece, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The ring also had connections to Alabama, Florida and Texas, according to authorities and court records.

Most of those involved were rounded up in coordinated busts in six Mississippi counties — Hinds, Lincoln, Marion, Pike, Rankin and Walthall. Eighteen people face federal charges and more than 30 others face state violations, Stan Harris, Mississippi’s acting U.S. Attorney, announced at a news conference.

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More than 86 guns, three silencers, five cars, and several stolen motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles were confiscated after the 18-month operation, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Marshall Fisher said.

At least 27 pounds of meth worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was seized in Hinds County, home to the state capital and largest city. The potency of the drug was much higher than seen in smaller operations, Fisher said. He would not disclose specific details about the trafficking operation because the investigation continues.

The group was a violent and “highly structured criminal organization” led by 26-year-old Christopher M. Stewart, also known as Batman, of Walthall County, authorities said.

A lawyer authorities said had represented Stewart did not immediately respond Tuesday to a message left at his office.

Federal agents used information from a confidential informant and began surveillance of at least one shipment in Waskom, Texas, according to court records. The shipment was driven to Hammond, La., in a Ford truck. In Louisiana, the truck was loaded on a trailer at a Wal-Mart and pulled into Mississippi behind another Ford truck.

Police arrested the driver in Mississippi and found 8,404 grams of meth, according to a DEA affidavit.

Stewart was due in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg on Thursday. He’s charged with conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of meth.

The investigation, called “Rankin Ice,” began with several arrests in Rankin County and grew as authorities realized how big the criminal operation was, Rankin County Sheriff Ronnie Pennington said.

Rankin County District Attorney Michael Guest said 21 people were in custody on state charges there and six others were being sought.