Forty-Seven Defendants Facing Drug, Gun, and Fraud Charges in Ongoing Investigation in Helena-West Helena
HELENA-WEST HELENA, AR—Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, David T. Resch, Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Dax Roberson, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General Southwest Region of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Colonel William J. Bryant, of the Arkansas State Police, announced today the simultaneous unsealing of eleven federal indictments charging 39 defendants as part of a continuing investigation into drug, firearm, and fraud offenses in Phillips County. The indictments were returned by the Grand Jury on November 4, 2015, and were unsealed today following a coordinated roundup of the charged defendants, along with eight defendants charged as part of the same investigation with state drug offenses.
The arrests resulted from two Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations, Operation Delta Blues and Operation Plastic Castle, which began in 2011 with a goal to target drug trafficking, violent crime, and public corruption in the Arkansas Delta, including Phillips County. Early Tuesday morning, approximately 300 law enforcement officers and support personnel, including approximately 130 tactical officers, executed 17 federal and 8 state arrest warrants in a targeted takedown that resulted in the arrests of 13 federal defendants and five state defendants on drug, firearm, or fraud charges. Seven defendants are now fugitives. Most of the defendants are residents of Helena-West Helena (see attachments for complete list of defendants, charges and penalties).
“Just over four years ago, during the original Operation Delta Blues, I made a commitment to help clean up the Arkansas Delta,” Thyer said. “It has been evident for some time that violent drug traffickers are overrunning the Arkansas delta, including Phillips County. Today’s operation is a reminder to those criminals that the federal and state law enforcement authorities will pursue you until this community is returned to its law-abiding citizens. Where drugs, violence, fraud and corruption fester, we will take action.”
From 2012 through 2015, agents with the FBI, ASP, and 1st Judicial District Drug Task Force coordinated more than 60 controlled purchases of drugs resulting in the acquisition of significant amounts of crack cocaine. Agents also utilized two court-authorized wiretaps in the drug-trafficking and firearms investigation. FBI and USDA agents also engaged in undercover transactions involving the illegal transfer of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“Today’s arrests are evidence of our continued resolve to make an impact on crime in the Arkansas delta,” Resch said. “We appreciate the unfaltering efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office, Arkansas State Police, and the 1st Judicial District Drug Task Force.”
“The Arkansas State Police is a committed partner in a team of law enforcement officers with a common objective to restore hope, law, and order in communities overwhelmed by drug dealers and violent offenders who have no regard for the community or the people they prey upon,” Bryant said.
In addition to the arrest warrants served today, 24 defendants who were charged in a single indictment with defrauding the USDA by selling their SNAP benefits at the Stop and Shop in Helena-West Helena for cash will receive summonses over the course of the next several days. SNAP benefits provide economic assistance for low-income individuals to purchase food.
The indictment alleges that Khalid Alkarsh, who owns Stop and Shop, and Bakil Mohamed Alqirsh, who is a cashier and manager at the convenience store, allowed SNAP recipients to trade their SNAP benefits for ineligible items such as beer and cigarettes, and for cash. When a SNAP recipient redeemed their benefits for cash, Alkarsh and Alquirsh paid the recipient approximately 60% of the transaction amount, and the Stop and Shop kept 40%. The loss amount for the alleged fraud is in excess of $250,000.
The counts in today’s unsealed indictments include conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine, distribution and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, use of a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking crime, conspiracy to unlawfully redeem SNAP benefits, and unlawful transfer of SNAP benefits.
Those arrested today will be arraigned in federal court in Little Rock before United States Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris beginning at 2 p.m. on Thursday, November 12, 2015. Defendants receiving summonses will be arraigned on Friday, November 20, 2015, at 1 p.m.
The investigations were conducted by FBI, USDA, and ASP, in partnership with the 1st Judicial District Drug Task Force. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters. An indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.