ASHEVILLE – A federal criminal indictment unsealed on Friday, Sept. 18 in Asheville charges 16 men and women with narcotics conspiracy operating in Swain, Cherokee and surrounding counties, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Of the 16 defendants named in the indictment, 15 have been arrested by law enforcement as of Friday. The indictment is the result of a joint federal, state and local investigation, targeting the distribution of methamphetamine in Western North Carolina.
Cherokee Chief of Police Ben Reed commented, “This is another great long-term drug investigation by Cherokee Indian Police Department and neighboring agencies. Drug investigations are extremely difficult and our communities should be very proud of our department’s drug interdiction capability.”
He added, “With this type of effort, sources of supply are cut off. Then, it’s time to start another one and target distribution rings and dismantle them as well. I’m thankful for these officers, agencies, and our community. I certainly want to thank the Lord for keeping everyone safe, those that are selling and using dope and those that are fighting to stop it. God’s grace is sufficient.”
In announcing the charges, Acting U.S. Attorney Rose said, “Drug dealers think they can operate under the radar in smaller, rural areas, and evade detection. They are wrong. We will partner with law enforcement agencies throughout Western North Carolina to protect all communities, large and small, and crackdown on drug traffickers that threaten the safety and well-being of the people living there.”
All defendants are charged with one count of engaging in a conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, with some facing additional drug and firearms violations. The 16 charged are:
- James Dee Ball, 36, Bryson City
- Kelsie Marie Burch, 23, Sylva
- Theresa Lorene Burns, 55, Bryson City
- Anna Marie Postell Cochran, 21, Bryson City
- Thomas Bart Cochran, 35, Bryson City
- Jeremiah Jerome Gibby, 35, Bryson City
- Hoke Benjamin Caleb Hayes, 24, of Hoschton, Ga.
- Bryan Keith Jenkins, 35, of Robbinsville (in state custody)
- Ray Chad Lequire, 34, Bryson City
- Amanda Brooke McKinney, 34, Bryson City
- Miranda Nations, 21, Bryson City
- Tammie Lynn Payne, 44, Waynesville
- Brandi Lynn Smith, 30, Cleveland, Ga.
- Gregory Daniel Steedly, 48, of Lawrenceville, Ga.
- Cain Hamilton Strickland, 34, of Atlanta, Ga. (in state custody)
- Sebern Todd Wyatt, 50, Bryson City
According to allegations contained in the indictment, from about April 2013 to about July 2015, in Cherokee, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties, the defendants conspired with each other to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. According to court records and statements made in court, over the course of the investigation law enforcement recovered more than three pounds of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, approximately $43,000 in cash, 11 firearms, including semi-automatic pistols and rifles, and ammunition.
All defendants named in the indictment are in currently in custody, except Kelsie Marie Burch, who remains a fugitive.
The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Acting U.S. Attorney Rose thanked all the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation for their continued cooperation and assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Kent of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.
– U.S. Attorney’s Office