Authorities bust major meth ring

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Operation Batman,” a locally based raid involving federal,state and area officials netted five people booked on federalcharges and 13 on state charges, all involving conspiracy todistribute methamphetamine, through the Lincoln County JailTuesday.

More arrests are possible in what law enforcement officials aresaying was the largest identified methamphetamine distribution ringin Mississippi.

“Operation Batman” was the Southwest Mississippi arm of a largerinvestigation, “Operation Rankin Ice.” Eighteen people are listedon a federal indictment on charges of conspiracy to distribute morethan 500 grams of methamphetamine and more than 30 others facestate violations in the stings, Mississippi’s acting U.S. AttorneyStan Harris said at a press conference Tuesday.

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Officials said the bust, which brought in seven Lincoln Countyresidents, is more than just a routine roundup.

“This investigation and subsequent arrests of these individualsresulted in the complete dismantlement of a sophisticated drugtrafficking organization responsible for the distribution ofsignificant quantities of methamphetamine into Mississippi,” saidJoel Reece, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent in Charge ofMississippi.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing and District 14 DistrictAttorney Dee Bates said the investigation into the group, whichofficials believe were transporting an average of 50 pounds ofmethamphetamine a month, has been ongoing for about 16 months andinvolves counties across south Mississippi, as well as potentiallyinto Alabama and Florida.

“This is the largest methamphetamine trafficking group known inthe state,” Bates said. “And a large percentage of that was beingbrought into Lincoln, Walthall and Pike counties.”

Rushing said the raid was a multi-faceted attack, with thesouthern part based out of Lincoln County and another branch basedout of Rankin County. The raids Tuesday took place in Walthall,Lincoln, Pike, Marion, Hinds and Rankin counties, with relatedoperations going on in Alabama and Florida.

Officials said the group has been operating for quite sometime.

“(They are) responsible for distributing multi-pound quantitiesof Mexican methamphetamine over a significant period of time,”Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Marshall Fisher said. “Webelieve the arrests and successful prosecution of this entireorganization will significantly impact the availability of thishighly addictive illicit narcotic in the state of Mississippi.”

Bates agreed, saying the positive impact should be felt locallyas well.

“We hope this will make a significant reduction in the amount ofmethamphetamine that comes into Lincoln County,” he said.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice said the group isa highly structured criminal organization that has demonstrated ahistory of violence to upkeep its drug trade. Rushing and Batessaid the group’s alleged kingpin, Christopher M. Stewart, who alsogoes by the nickname “Batman,” is believed to have ties to whitesupremacy organizations.

“They are believed to be loosely associated with the AryanBrotherhood, though I haven’t seen any evidence to that,” Batessaid.

Stewart, 26, of Walthall County, was the leader of theoperation, Bates said, but his father, Gary M. Stewart, and hisuncle, Gavin Stewart, were also involved.

Stewart was arraigned Tuesday and is expected to appear in U.S.District Court in Hattiesburg on Wednesday.

Rushing said the suspects were booked through Lincoln Countybecause parts of the case originated in Lincoln County.

“A lot of that is based on information in the original case,”Rushing said. “Some of the original state charges were filedhere.”

Officials recovered a significant haul of stolen items, as wellas seizing $1.5 million in methamphetamine, five vehicles, twostolen motorcycles, two stolen all-terrain vehicles, threesilencers and more than 86 firearms, one of which was an AK-47.

The investigation involved more than 20 federal, state, andlocal law enforcement agencies. Bates said the MississippiDepartment of Wildlife, Game and Fisheries and the MississippiDepartment of Agriculture also deserve some special credit, as theywere needed on scene to deal with some unlikely pets.

“They were called in to handle some exotic animals, inparticular, they were called in to assist with a pet albino cobra,”he said.

Bates said the departments also were able to assist with aniguana and an alligator.