Five men have been charged with drug trafficking in an operation that wound up in Gainesville and resulted in the seizure of 1,572 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of $3.14 million.
“This is our largest marijuana bust in probably 10 years,” said Hall County Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Ware, commander of the Gainesville-Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad, speaking Tuesday morning in a press conference at the Gainesville Justice Center.
The investigation began several weeks before the April 12 arrests on information developed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is the main investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Information led us to believe that a tractor-trailer containing a large quantity of drugs” would arrive at a business in the 1700 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, said Ware, who declined to name the business.
“The truck did arrive (about 10:30 p.m.), as well as several other vehicles that were intended to unload contents of the truck,” he added.
Authorities obtained search and arrest warrants in the incident.
“On its face, the truck contained pallets of produce, containing peppers, cactus and cilantro,” Ware said. “Inside several of the pallets were what you see here.”
At the press conference, authorities involved in the investigation stood behind a lectern flanked by sealed packages, 106 total, containing marijuana.
Authorities believe “the load came out of Kansas via Mexico,” he added.
“I think it was destined to go elsewhere,” Ware said. “This was the location that was chosen to break down the contents of the truck, place it in vehicles and then (the drugs) would go out for distribution.”
Arrested were Jose Luis Chavez-Morfin, 43, of Duluth; Juventino Morfin-Mendoza, 38, of Duluth; Jose Macias-Sanchez, 45, of Duluth; Marcos Antonio Ortiz-Barajas, 19, Douglasville; and Calvin Elwood Gearhart, 47, of Wichita, Kan.
All were charged with trafficking marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.
Also, Chavez-Morfin, Morfin-Mendoza, Macias-Sanchez and Ortiz-Barajas have an immigration hold placed on them, authorities said.
All are being held at the Hall County Jail.
Asked why authorities waited nearly two weeks to announce the arrests, Ware said afterward, “With numerous federal agencies involved, we wanted to make sure that the media release did not compromise any other agencies’ involvement or the possibility for further arrests.”
He did say at the news conference that the investigation is ongoing, perhaps resulting in more arrests.
In addition to MANS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agencies involved were the Hall County Sheriff’s SWAT Team, Gainesville Police Department and Hall County Sheriff’s Office uniform patrol divisions, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia State Patrol Aviation Division and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force.
“This is a prime example of the times we live in and the need to have partnerships, and this was the result of a strong partnership (among the law enforcement groups),” Sheriff Steve Cronic said. “... I think the key to the success of this operation was everyone working together for a positive result.”
Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly said that while authorities don’t know the ultimate destinations of the marijuana, “we do feel confident that this (operation) has had not only an impact on the Gainesville-Hall community but also statewide and possibly outside the state.”