Friday, May 26, 2017

TOP STORY >> Area men charged in drug bust

Federal and local police Wednesday morning arrested dozens of accused drug and gun dealers in central Arkansas, including a Jacksonville man and a former Jacksonville resident.

Christopher S. Newman Jr., 26, of Jacksonville has been charged with conspiracy and intent to distribute cocaine and use of a telephone to distribute drugs. Authorities seized $4,019 in drug proceeds.

John Webster Batton, 38, of Searcy, formerly of Jacksonville, was charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin.

They appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris on Friday and pleaded not guilty. They face five to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Wednesday’s operation culminated in an 18-month joint investigation into several drug-trafficking organizations, primarily in Little Rock.

The investigation was led by the FBI and Little Rock and North Little Rock police.

Twenty-five people were arrested —joining the 27 people indicted who were already in custody — while several individuals remain at large. Fifty of the 61 defendants are from Little Rock. Some defendants face 10 years to life in prison.

Agents seized more than two kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of heroin, more than a pound each of crack cocaine and methamphetamine and eight ounces of fentanyl.

Arkansas State Police, National Guard and Pulaski County sheriff’s deputies assisted in the arrests.

In late 2015, the FBI and North Little Rock police began investigating the drug-trafficking activities of North Little Rock gangs. Investigators soon learned the gangs’ source of drugs came from individuals in Little Rock.

After several drug purchases, wiretaps and search warrants, FBI and Little Rock police identified more than 60 suspects.

Officers seized these drugs during more than 25 controlled purchases, as well as during the execution of multiple search warrants.

In addition, agents seized 25 guns and approximately $241,000 of drug proceeds.

The largest involved a 33-defendant, 67-count indictment alleging heroin and cocaine conspiracies, both headed by Aaron “Black” Clark, 33, of Little Rock.