The Capitolist

Massive drug ring busted in Panhandle after 18-month investigation


 

More than 44 defendants face drug trafficking charges in North Florida as a result of a multi-agency investigation to dismantle the sprawling drug trafficking ring. Fifteen defendants face federal indictments announced by Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson, Jr. and Mike Dubet, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Jacksonville District Office.

The investigation, launched in May 2019 by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and the DEA in Panama City Florida, centered around defendants James Young and Shelley Johnson. The couple are alleged to have operated a methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl trafficking operation in Walton County.

Young and Johnson

Intelligence obtained during the investigation revealed Young routinely acquired large quantities of crystal methamphetamine and smaller quantities of heroin and fentanyl from sources in the Atlanta, Georgia area. According to the indictments, Young and Johnson then distributed these controlled substances to other drug dealers and users in and around Walton County, Florida using Johnson’s waterfront residence in Freeport.

Law enforcement agencies relied on a wide range of surveillance and investigative techniques, including mobile surveillance, undercover drug purchases totaling more than 500 grams methamphetamine by a DEA agent, and four federal wire intercepts of telephones used by Johnson, Young, and one of Johnson’s local sources of supply for heroin, methamphetamine and diverted pharmaceutical pills, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

After a year of investigation, wiretap surveillance revealed that Young and Johnson were returning to the Walton County area from Atlanta with a shipment of methamphetamine.

According to the release, the DEA and Warren County Sheriff’s Office coordinated a traffic stop of Young and Johnson shortly after they returned to Walton County, Florida. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of $25,049.00 in U.S. Currency, approximately three pounds of crystal methamphetamine, and over 500 grams of another controlled substance. Following this traffic stop, sheriffs deputies and DEA Task Force investigators executed search warrants at three different locations associated with Young, Johnson, and one of their drug distributors, where more evidence of drug trafficking was discovered and seized, along with four firearms.

First in June and again in October of 2020, a federal grand jury at the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida, returned indictments charging Johnson, Young, and 13 co-conspirators with conspiracy to possess controlled substances with the intent to distribute. Johnson and Young were also charged with possessing firearms as convicted felons.

State drug charges have been obtained in the 1st Judicial Circuit of Florida in Walton County against 29 additional individuals charged in connection with the investigation. Law enforcement agencies seized the following illegal narcotics, cash, and other assets in connection with the investigation or related inquiries:

· Nearly 20 pounds of crystal methamphetamine
· 672 grams of heroin
· 162 grams of carfentanil
· 32 grams of suspected fentanyl
· 533 grams of suspected GHB
· 5 motor vehicles valued at approximately $91,515.00 · Freeport waterfront property valued at $1.3 million
· $27,572.00 U.S. Currency
· Four firearms

The investigation was aided by related investigations by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshal Service, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, the Panama City Beach Police Department, the Panama City Police Department, the Springfield Police Department, the Lynn Haven Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, and the DeFuniak Springs Police Department.

The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Aine Ahmed. The U.S. Attorney’s office cautions that the indictments are merely allegations by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.