Acworth residents William Cuellar, 42, Tatjana Jaric, 21, and Victor Martinez-Gonzales, 39, were arrested after a house on Elwin Ragsdale Way was searched by agents with Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said CMANS Commander Phil Price.
According to Price, the search also yielded 1.6 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at $80,000 on the street, a sub-machine gun and almost $64,000 in cash.
But Price said Thursday the three people arrested are not the only ones involved in what he said was a huge operation run by at least one Georgia inmate, and involving hundreds of pounds of drugs and millions of dollars sent to Mexico.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, but I was a little bit shocked,” Price said. “We’ve heard of things like this before, but this is a really day-in, day-out business that was being conducted (by someone in prison). This is a major operation for Cherokee and certainly one that we’re not done with.”
According to Price, the inmate, or inmates, leading the operation apparently received smuggled cellphones and used them to oversee the operation, which Price believes has helped a large amount of methamphetamine go in and out of the house in Acworth.
“We are comfortable in saying that hundreds of pounds of meth have been distributed out of this house,” Price said. “This is a major operation.”
Price declined to name the inmate, or inmates, at the helm of the ring, as did Gwendolyn Hogan, a Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman.
“This is an active investigation,” Hogan said in an email Thursday. “The department cannot release specific information related to the inmate(s) involved and/or location of the facilities. The Department of Corrections does not tolerate contraband and takes very seriously its mission of protecting the public and running safe and secure facilities.”
Although the trafficking ring was allegedly run by a Georgia inmate, its reach may go much farther, Price said.
“There’s pieces and parts of this really all over the Southeast,” Price said. “Our piece here in Cherokee County is a relatively small piece of the puzzle.”
But with so much methamphetamine reportedly coming out of one house in Acworth, Price said Cherokee County’s piece of the puzzle is important.
The investigation into the trafficking ring has been going for weeks with involvement from agencies from around the state, including the Dalton Police Department, the Murray County Sheriff’s Office, the GBI, the Department of Homeland Security and Georgia State Patrol, according to Price.
Price said police began to suspect Cherokee County was somehow involved in the ring when officers in Murray County learned suspects being investigated there had been travelling to Cherokee.
Then, on Sunday, investigators began to connect the dots when two suspects were found driving with a large amount of methamphetamine by the Dalton Police Department, Price said.
Dalton investigators said they learned Sunday one of those suspects, Angela Elezan Lovain, 36, of Chatsworth, was planning to travel from Cherokee County to Dalton with a stash of the drug.
Price said officers pulled Lovain over and searched her car, and found an appliance box with 4.3 pounds of methamphetamine, worth $190,000 on the street, hidden inside.
Officers arrested Lovain and charged her with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, trafficking in methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine, Price said. A passenger in the car, Richard Lee Long, 51, of Chatsworth, was also charged with possession of methamphetamine and trafficking in methamphetamine, Price added.
After the two Dalton Police arrests, Price said investigators found out that the drugs had come from the house on Elwin Ragsdale Way in Acworth.
“Once we found out … Sunday, we setup around-the-clock surveillance on the house to see what was going on and to be able to develop our own probable cause to do a search,” Price said.
By Monday night, Price said officers had enough probable cause and knew what suspects they should be looking for, and then executed a search warrant.
Price said the three suspects arrested in Acworth weren’t all at the house at the time of the search, but were captured later, as officers knew where to find them.
The suspects arrested at the home, Cuellar, Jaric and Martinez-Gonzales, were each charged with trafficking methamphetamine, and Cuellar received an additional charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Price said. They remain at the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center without bond.
A man who lives near the house, and declined to be named for fear of conflict with his neighbors, said the area normally sees little crime, except for the suspected stash house.
“Usually, this is a very peaceful neighborhood,” he said “The landlord doesn’t check the people out. He doesn’t fix the place. Every time this guy rents to somebody it’s a (criminal).”
But the neighbor hopes things will change soon.
On Wednesday night, he saw a moving truck, he said.