March 21, 2019
Contact: Chuvalo Truesdell
Phone Number: (404) 893-7124
National awards honors U.S. Attorney’s Office, other agencies for dismantling major Ddrug Ttraffickers
Operation Cellmate overcame significant technological challenges
SAVANNAH, Ga. - A multi-agency operation in the Southern District of Georgia is receiving national recognition for dismantling a major drug trafficking organization whose methods included delivering contraband to prisons with drones and using funding from a lottery winner.
The Southern District’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force received the national award for Overcoming Technology Obstacles for its investigation and prosecution in Operation Cellmate, a transnational, multi-district drug trafficking organization that used gangs to distribute large quantities of methamphetamine throughout the Southeastern United States, said Bobby L. Christine, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
Ten investigators and prosecutors from the agencies who coordinated Operation Cellmate received the award from OCDETF Regional Director Mike Smith at 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, in a ceremony at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 22 Barnard St., Savannah.
“We are honored that our Assistant U.S. Attorneys are among the recipients of this award and even more honored at the recognition of the law enforcement officers and prosecutors who coordinate their efforts to drive criminals out of our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “Being chosen for this prestigious award from among 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country is truly humbling for our small district.”
Operation Cellmate began in 2014 when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation learned that a violent drug trafficking organization was operating from within a Georgia Department of Corrections facility. The investigation identified Daniel Roger Alo, an associate of the Ghost Face Gangsters, as leading the criminal group from inside the prison, where he was serving a life sentence for multiple violent felonies.
Alo developed a source of supply for methamphetamine from the Sinaloa Cartel, the Mexican crime syndicate previously operated by the notorious Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. In addition to other Ghost Face Gangsters, Alo recruited help from other violent street gangs, including the Bloods and Gangster Disciples.
The organization used drones and compromised prison guards to smuggle phones and contraband into the prison, where the conspirators used the devices to coordinate drug trafficking throughout the Southeast. In the largest seizure, agents in 2015 seized 10.9 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, multiple firearms and more than $600,000 in a Brunswick sting operation. The methamphetamine had been purchased with some of the $3 million won months earlier in the Georgia Lottery by Ronnie Music.
By September 2016, a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia indicted 21 defendants on drug trafficking and firearms related charges. The strength of the legal case rested on the exhaustive, detailed work provided by Assistant U.S. Attorneys E. Greg Gilluly Jr. and Tania Groover, and within a year, all of the defendants indicted in the operation pled guilty and were later sentenced to a combined 170 years in federal prison.
The OCDETF award recognizes the significant technical obstacles investigators encountered in investigating the drug organization that operated from inside a prison using drones, cell phones, Facebook and Green Dot cards.
Agencies and their members receiving the award are:
- U.S. Attorney’s Office: Assistant U.S. Attorneys E. Greg Gilluly Jr. and Tania Groover, and former U.S. Attorney Theodore Hertzberg;
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: Special Agent Thomas J. Crawford III, Special Agent James C. Turner, Forensic Auditor Christa K. Morgan, and Forfeiture Investigator Richard Ruka;
- Georgia Bureau of Investigation: Special Agent Bobby Banks;
- Drug Enforcement Administration: Special Agent Robert L. Livingston and Special Agent Christopher J. Atkins, at the time of the investigation representing the Glynn County Police Department; and,
- U.S. Marshal’s Service: Task Force Agent Keith Lane
In addition to the OCDETF award, Operation Cellmate also was named 2017 Case of the Year by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
OCDETF is the centerpiece of the United States Attorney General’s national drug strategy to reduce the availability of drugs by disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and related criminal enterprises.
The DEA 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. Also follow DEA Atlanta via Twitter at @DEAATLANTADiv.