COLUMBIA, SC. – United States Attorney Bill Nettles announced today, at a press conference held at 2:00 pm in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Greenville, that $3,085,386 dollars in seized assets stemming from an upstate drug prosecution from 2004 through 2006 has been dispersed among several state and local law enforcement agencies that partnered in the investigation with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service/Criminal Investigation. Those agencies include the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville Police Department, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
The seized property and funds were included in a written plea agreement during the March 2006 guilty plea proceedings in federal court in Spartanburg of Charles W. Penland, Sr., (Penland), 71, a Spartanburg County businessman who operated Highway 101 Auto Sales and at one point attempted to open “Thee Bunny Ranch” in Greer. Penland entered a guilty plea and was later sentenced in August of 2006 to 10 years in federal prison on drug conspiracy and money laundering charges. The conspiracy count, which dated back to January of 2000, alleged the possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, 50 grams or more of crystal methamphetamine, and 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine.
In October 2004, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Upstate Task Force initiated an investigation into the drug-related activities of Penland, the owner and operator of two used car businesses in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. The investigation soon expanded to include the joint coordination of other Federal and State law enforcement agencies including the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
The investigation revealed that Penland owned or operated a number of businesses over the years in a building located at 1876 Highway 101, Greer, South Carolina, including a bar/restaurant called “Beamers” which closed in 2003, “Thee Bunny Ranch” shortly thereafter, and then beginning in October 2004, a used car lot, known as Highway 101 Auto Sales. Numerous witnesses advised law enforcement that they had seen quantities of cocaine at this location, beginning as early as January 2000. Witnesses described the building as being divided into three sections; the front being a restaurant/bar area; the middle section at one time housed pool tables; and the back section was a private area with a full bar, stage, and couches. Numerous witnesses told law enforcement that Penland and his co-defendants used and stored quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine (crystal and powder) in this back section. Witnesses also told agents that they had seen quantities of cocaine at an apartment leased by Penland at Thornblade Apartments.
Based in part upon the above information, a joint undercover operation was initiated by law enforcement. On January 6, 2005, working under the direction of SLED and SCSO, a confidential informant met with Jeremiah Nelson (an employee of Defendant Penland’s) at Highway 101 Auto Sales to purchase an ounce of crystal methamphetamine. Nelson sold the informant two bags of crystal methamphetamine for $1,200.00. Additional witness interviews by law enforcement revealed that co-defendants, Don Beal and Darryl Jeter, one-time employees of Penland, assisted in the transportation and retrieval of cocaine for Penland during the dates of the conspiracy.
Undercover operations in this investigation continued and on April 22, 2005, a confidential source, together with an IRS undercover agent posing as the confidential source’s friend and drug associate contacted Penland at Highway 101 Auto Sales. The undercover IRS agent was wearing a recording device and transmitter which was used to monitor and record the meeting. The undercover IRS agent, confidential source, and Penland met privately in the back room of Highway 101 Auto Sales, where Penland agreed to sell the agent a 2000 Chevrolet Tahoe for $17,000 cash and to title the vehicle in a third party name. Drug discussions regarding future vehicle purchases in exchange for cocaine were recorded during the meeting.
Pursuant to federal law, business owners are required to report any cash transactions $10,000 or greater by filing a FINCEN Form 8300. A check of IRS records revealed that Penland nor any of his business entities filed the required Form 8300.
On June 27, 2005, the undercover IRS agent went back to Highway 101 Auto Sales to meet with Penland. The undercover IRS agent told Penland that he was interested in purchasing a silver BMW 745LI that he saw at Highway 101 Auto Sales during his last visit. Penland agreed to sell the car for $50,000 cash or three kilos of cocaine.
On June 29, 2005, the undercover IRS agent returned to the Highway 101 Auto Sales to finalize the deal for the BMW and other vehicles. The IRS agent introduced an undercover DEA agent to Penland as his drug connection and then proceeded to negotiate with Penland for the purchase of the BMW for $50,000 in cash and negotiate the trade of one kilogram of cocaine for additional vehicles (a Ford Mustang and Isuzu Rodeo). During this conversation, Penland discussed obtaining quantities of cocaine, what he was paying for cocaine, and also what he was paying per pound for “ice” or crystal methamphetamine.
On June 30, 2005, shortly after the undercover IRS Agent gave Penland $50,000 cash, the DEA Agent gave Penland what Penland believed to be a kilogram of cocaine. Immediately thereafter, agents executed a search warrant at Highway 101 Auto Sales and arrested Penland.
In September 2005, agents also searched Penland’s farm located at 1705 Abner Creek Road, Greer, South Carolina, where they located the remnants of a clandestine methamphetamine lab at the location.
United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated that the prosecution was carried out in cooperation with a host of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. These agencies included the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville City Police Department, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, the South Carolina Highway Patrol, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Drug Enforcement Administration and DEA Upstate Task Force, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the United States Marshals Service. Assistant United States Attorney Lance Crick of the Greenville office and Assistant United States Attorney Deborah Barbier of the Columbia office prosecuted the case. Former Assistant United States Attorney and current 13 th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins also prosecuted the case.
Rodney G. Benson, Special Agent in Charge
of the DEA Atlanta Field Division encourages
parents, along with their children, to
educate themselves about the dangers of
legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA’s
interactive websites at www.justthinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.