WHITE COUNTY, Ark. – Federal officials said Thursday that law enforcement officers made numerous arrests in Searcy and the White County area in connection to a federal investigation into gang and drug activity.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross said 33 people were indicted on March 5, and 17 of those people were arrested Thursday morning on conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession of firearms and distribution of methamphetamine and other drug and firearm-related charges.

The indictments and arrests were a part of Operation Central Sweep.

Officials said this operation started as an investigation in April 2020. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the investigation is “to combat the growing violent crimes associated with gang-related activity traced to the ‘Gangster Disciples,’ a drug distribution organization operating in the Searcy area.”

“Operation Central Sweep is an intentional, well-planned strike at a drug organization and its affiliates who have been operating throughout White County and the surrounding areas,” Ross said.

Of the 33 people indicted, eight were already in custody and eight are on the loose. The defendants charged include:

  • Juan Ahumada, 26, Searcy
  • Christopher Barefield, 28, Conway
  • Cory Birdwell, 34, Searcy
  • Rodney Bishop, 46, Judsonia
  • Benjamin Blue, 44, Searcy
  • Dennis Boatman, 29, Searcy
  • Albert Cates, 57, Searcy
  • Aaron Cromwell, 29, Searcy
  • Justice Cunningham, 23, Searcy
  • Athena Delancey, 40, Augusta
  • Sigmond Donelson, 47, Searcy
  • Kayla Haggins, 26, Helena-West Helena
  • Kenny Isom, 32, McRae
  • Keith Johnson, 38, Helena-West Helena
  • Lyron Johnson, 57, Searcy
  • Timothy Johnston, 58, Searcy
  • Rickey Jones, 34, Searcy
  • Christopher Koser, 19, Judsonia
  • Earl Lockhart III, 44, Augusta
  • Felicia Mason, 25, Searcy
  • Michael Matthews, 39, Bald Knob
  • Anthony Miles, 55, Judsonia
  • Donald Patterson, 33, Helena-West Helena
  • Branden Priddy, 29, Searcy
  • Cynthia Rainey, 35, Searcy
  • John Rayburn, 30, Searcy
  • Roderick Roberson, 43, Searcy
  • Andre “Smoke” Smith, 21, Searcy
  • Nathaniel Stipes, 28, Judsonia
  • Marcus Trouten, 35, Searcy
  • Terry White, 26, Searcy
  • Keith Williams, 47, Augusta
  • Evander Young, 32, Searcy

Federal prosecutors said these suspects have operated for about 10 years and have been arrested 500 times at various times in their lives.

Officials say the suspects have dealt multiple kilograms of meth all over White, Woodruff, Conway, Faulkner and Phillips counties.

Authorities say prior to Thursday’s arrest, 105 pounds of meth, 3.3 pounds of cocaine and 44 firearms. Four additional firearms were recovered Thursday.

The investigation was conducted jointly with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security Investigations, United States Postal Inspection Service, Searcy Police Department, 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, White County Sheriff’s Office and the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force.

“Our neighborhoods deserve to exist without fear and intimidation inflicted by violent drug gangs like the Gangster Disciples,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Brad L. Byerley said. “The arrests today are an example of DEA’s relentless pursuit to target individuals and organizations that plague and pollute our communities with their drug trafficking and violence. DEAs continued pledge to the people of Arkansas is to continue to continue to work with all our law enforcement partners to pursue these violent criminals and drug traffickers.”

“The focus is on the community,” USPS postal inspector Thomas Noyes noted. “It is fulfilling to see an array of departments working together to take criminals, drugs, and guns off the streets, but the real reward is restoring a sense of safety to the community. It is an honor to have worked with so many towards that end, and we thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their commitment to seek the maximum prosecution for criminals who have posed such grave danger to our towns.”

“As today’s operation demonstrated, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with our state and federal law enforcement partners, continues to enhance our ability to disrupt deadly narcotics and weapons trafficking,” said HSI New Orleans acting Special Agent in Charge Jack Staton. “This operation sends a strong message to drug dealers that HSI will use every available resource to prevent and dismantle the flow of dangerous and addictive substances into our communities.”

“ATF is proud to stand with our state, federal and local partners against violent drug and gang crime in our communities,” ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge William McCrary added. “This case is a great example of cooperative law enforcement at its best. We will continue to work together to address these serious crimes.”

Officials say Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Highway Police, Arkansas Department of Corrections, Arkansas National Guard Counterdrug Unit, 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, Prairie County Sheriff’s Office, White County Sheriff’s Office, United States Marshals Services, United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United State Probation Office.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the maximum penalty for the drug charges is no less than 10 years in prison and up to life in prison and a $10,000,000 fine, the maximum penalty for possessing a firearm along with a drug trafficking crime is no less than five years in prison and up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the maximum penalty for being a felon or an unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Officials say the defendants that were arrested Thursday will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on Monday, March 15 at 9 a.m. for plea and arraignment and defendants who were already in custody will have arraignments scheduled later.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said trial dates will be announced at the plea and arraignment hearings.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Amanda Fields.