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Authorities 'take down' drug ring
Mar 21, 2006 12:00 am
March 18, 2006
NASHVILLE — An international cocaine trafficking ring with links to Mexico and Texas but operating primarily out of Lebanon to distribute hard drugs to Wilson County buyers and others across Middle Tennessee met with what federal officials called a "take down" early Friday morning.
U.S. Attorney Jim Vines, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Lebanon Police Department and the Wilson County Sheriff's Department unveiled the results of a massive drug roundup in a Friday afternoon press conference, releasing a list of 24 people federally indicted in the alleged ring, many of them Lebanon residents.
In addition, Wilson County and federal authorities said another 42 individuals were being gathered in the roundup on state drug charges, most of whom were also Wilson County residents.
Vines identified the ring as the "Aguirre Organization," a reference to the two brothers and Mexican nationals who allegedly led the cocaine trafficking operation, Saul and Vicente Aguirre.
In addition to the indictments, the bust netted more than 6 kilograms of cocaine, over $250,000 in cash and a small cache of semi-automatic handguns.
However, Vines and others said the importance of the operation was in breaking up the network itself, which was rooted in Lebanon, and in the "meaningful results" the take down of the Aguirre Organization would show in impacting the availability of drugs in Middle Tennessee.
"We know the fight of the drug war is probably a never-ending fight," Vines said. " … A take down of this size will affect the prices of drugs, it will affect the distribution channels in such a solid way that it makes these types of investigations and arrests worthwhile. This will take a large quantity of drugs off the streets and keep them away from our young people."
"I think we dismantled this organization, and we dismantled it root to stem," DEA Special Agent Harry Sommers said. "I think the impact in Wilson County is that the drug supply is going to be clearly diminished."
According to federal and local officials, the investigation began in the summer of 2005 as a result of arrests made and intelligence gathered by the LPD and WCSD.
Lebanon was the scene of much of the roundup activity in the early morning hours Friday, as agents from the DEA and U.S. Marshals office worked with local officers to arrest 19 of the 24 federally indicted in the ring as well as an unknown number of those charged at the state level.
The Aguirre brothers and two more suspects – Roderick Marks and Keith Dwaune Watkins – remained at large at press time.
The Lebanon Democrat staff found federal agents and local law enforcement officers massed at Lebanon's National Guard Armory on Leeville Pike at 7 a.m. with federal prisoners already in custody and awaiting transport to Nashville.
The newspaper also found state and federal witnesses being booked throughout the day at the Wilson County Justice Center with federal officials taking several of the indicted suspects into custody on the spot at the county jail.
Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe and Lebanon Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks said the operation required not only the cooperation of the two Wilson County departments, but the aid of other law enforcement agencies in Williamson, Sumner and Rutherford counties.
"It just got so big we couldn't work it as an individual agency," Ashe said. "It shows agencies can work together to solve a major problem. … We could not have worked it all the way to Mexico and back without the help of the federal government."
Weeks added a great deal of city resources were used for the operation, including the use of the former Lebanon Fire Department Station No. 2 at the corner of Hartmann Drive and Baddour Parkway as a staging ground for multi-agency efforts in the operation. The LPD's involvement also required the patience of the Lebanon City Council, which approved a great deal of overtime for Lebanon officers working on the case without at the time knowing what the police were working on.
"There were a lot of different agencies involved in this case along with the DEA," Weeks said. "This will make a difference, and it got numerous drug dealers out of our city."
Weeks and Ashe pointed out one irony about some of those charged at the federal level were familiar faces to Wilson County law enforcement officers. The federally charged individuals are suspects and alleged dealers charged previously at the state level who were still on the street.
"Some of these people have been known to Billy and me for a long time," Ashe said of the list of names on the indictment. "We've had some of these folks before. Some have been arrested numerous times."
Ashe and Weeks also made reference to a spread of semi-automatic handguns, kilos of cocaine and bags of marijuana resting on tables between the media and law enforcement officers at the press conference.
Both men said a rash of violence in the federal housing projects and the inner city areas of Lebanon in the last year has been related to drug trafficking tied to the Aguirre Organization.
Weeks went so far as to say the apparently random shooting of then 15-year-old Lebanon High School cheerleader India Clark was related to the kind of drug violence tied to the drug ring taken down Friday.
"The biggest problem in our city are those guns," Weeks said, gesturing toward the table. "Those drugs bring those guns."
"Every time you see that on the table," Ashe added of the seized weapons and drugs, "You have saved a child's life or impacted some family in a positive way."
At press time, The Democrat could not confirm the identities of the indicted Wilson County residents.
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.