Sheriff Jimmy Thornton brought over $279,000 back to Sampson County and his law enforcement department Friday, the county’s share in a multi-agency drug operation where $4.1 million in U.S. currency was seized under federal Asset Forfeiture laws. The Sampson Sheriff’s Office received $279,255.72, making it the third highest recipient of the confiscated money.
A day earlier, on Thursday, Thornton was in Knoxville, Tenn. for a press conference held at the U.S. Attorney’s office, along with representatives from other law enforcement agencies in North Carolina and Tennessee to announce the operation and the cash seized. A total of 19 state and local law enforcement agencies received a portion of the money.
“We had right much involvement in this,” Thornton said Friday upon his return from Knoxville. “This money will certainly benefit our department and help us get some of the things we need to do our job.”
The money, Thornton said, can only be used for law enforcement, and his intent, he noted was to purchase such things as much needed radar units to replace outdated ones. “There are a multitude of things we’ve needed for several years. This is a windfall that we can benefit from greatly.”
The operation involved a 2011 investigation of a Mexican drug trafficking organization that was responsible for trafficking drug money on Interstate 40. During the course of the investigation, the suspect vehicle was identified and a vehicle stop ensued. A search of the semi-truck and its contents revealed shrink wrapped pallets which contained $4.1 million in U.S. currency.
Javier Cruz-Ramirez pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises. He was sentenced to 60 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Armando Guzman Villegas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and to abetting interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises. He was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. The court also ordered the forfeiture of $4.1 million in cash.
The U.S. Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program is a nationwide initiative that recovers property that may be used to compensate victims or to share with law enforcement agencies with the goal of deterring crime and encouraging law enforcement agencies to work together.
Thornton stressed that for the past 11 years the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the DEA and other agencies in a task force and has benefited greatly in seized cash as well as assets to purchase equipment that has saved the Sampson County taxpayers a lot of money.
“This is another example of having an aggressive drug division and criminal interdiction team over the past years. The Sheriff’s Office has purchased 18 vehicles with this money as well as other needed equipment to provide law enforcement to the citizens of Sampson County and most importantly to provide for the safety of their families,” Thornton said.
“These seized assets from drug thugs pay for equipment that better enables us to seek them out. I am very proud of the dedication of my officers and the focus we put on drug dealers in this county. We are definitely sending a strong message to those elements in our county. We will not put up, shut up, or give up until we arrest all of them to the best of our ability.”
Thornton said the operation was a great example of the importance of having a good working relationship among local, state and federal agencies.
“The hard work and dedication of each of these agencies plays a vital role in stopping the flow of drugs and illegal currency on our highways and in our neighborhoods. The seizure of currency from these drug thugs not only hampers their illegal drug operations, but it enables law enforcement agencies to utilize that seized money to purchase much needed equipment to further aid the agency in the drug fight at no cost to the taxpayers,” the sheriff attested.