02/12/10 — Officials put stop to local cocaine operation

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Officials put stop to local cocaine operation

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on February 12, 2010 1:46 PM

NEWTON GROVE -- During the peak operations of a drug smuggling ring, between 20 and 30 kilograms of cocaine per month provided by a Mexican cartel were being transported through Hispanic specialty store Tienda Avilez in Newton Grove on U.S. 701, authorities say.

The store's owner was the focus of a federal, state and local joint investigation that the U.S. Department of Justice had dubbed "Operation Northern Star," targeting the drug trafficking organization of Julian Avilez.

In a press conference held in Raleigh on Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that the investigation, conducted using the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, had concluded.

Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell, Mount Olive police Chief Ralph Schroeder, Mount Olive Detective Sgt. C.J. Weaver and Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders, whose agencies were involved in the investigation, were in attendance.

The U.S. District Attorney's office said Avilez's organization primarily operated in Goldsboro, but also had dealings in outlying Wayne and Sampson County areas.

"At the heights of his cocaine trafficking, Avilez facilitated the monthly importation of 20 to 30 kilogram cocaine shipments directly from Mexico by a Mexican drug cartel," Holding said.

Tienda Avilez was used as a "base for his narcotics trafficking," authorities said in a news release.

Julian Avilez has already been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for his involvement in the ring.

Other Goldsboro residents were also arrested during the investigation.

Rico Moses, described as a "major distributor of crack cocaine in Goldsboro" was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

Antwon Demetrius Peacock also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, and was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison, authorities said.

Holding's office reported that in total, law enforcement agencies "seized 14 firearms, 11 kilograms of cocaine, two kilograms of crack cocaine and over $1 million in U.S. currency."

The federal government also seized $600,000 worth of real estate and personal property forfeited by defendants under federal drug regulations.

The case began in 2006 as a joint effort between the Goldsboro-Wayne County Drug Squad and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Winders said the case, which started in 2006, is an example of diligent work by drug authorities that led to major charges over the long term.

"It's a very big drug bust for us (local police agencies)," Winders said. "When you're dealing with a federal investigation, sometimes citizens don't realize how long it takes to investigate when the investigation reaches into other states and even other countries."

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force is a special agency created by federal law in 1982 to combat such drug smuggling rings, the U.S. Drug Enforcement agency says.

"The principal mission of the ... program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation's drug supply," according to the DEA.

Holding praised the task force in Thursday's press conference.

"One of the most significant weapons against drug trafficking that law enforcement has is the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force," Holding said. "This investigation is an example of the success that can be had by a cooperative effort toward a common goal of defeating narcotics traffickers."