68 of 108 suspects arrested in FBI Midlands drug case - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

68 of 108 suspects arrested in FBI Midlands drug case

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The FBI has arrested 68 out of over 100 people under indictment in a Midlands case involving various federal drug, weapon and immigration violations.

United States Attorney Walt Wilkins announced Tuesday at a news conference that six federal indictments were unsealed Tuesday in which 108 individuals were charged. [View slideshow of those still sought]

"This is a major impact case," said Wilkins.

According to a news release, agents began executing search warrants early Tuesday morning. Those taken into custody began appearing in federal court in Columbia on Tuesday afternoon.

One woman says several FBI agents burst into her home Tuesday morning to arrest two men in connection with this bust. "It was a scary situation," she said.

In May 2008, Columbia's Violent Gang Task Force began investigating street gang and drug trafficking activity in the Ridgewood neighborhood.

Agents made numerous controlled purchases of crack cocaine, and eventually the FBI obtained court-authorized wiretaps.

Those wiretaps uncovered "a vast drug conspiracy across the Midlands, leading to a group of Mexican drug suppliers operating in Lexington County," according to the release.

In late spring, 18 were arrested on the charges and a total of 9 federal search warrants were executed. So far, the investigation has resulted in the seizure of approximately $568,927 in cash, 18 kilograms of cocaine, 6 pounds of marijuana, 1/4 kilogram of crack cocaine and 33 firearms.

Of those 18 previously arrested, authorities say 11 are illegal aliens from Mexico. Wilkins says some of the suspects under indictment are currently in Mexico.

Wilkins said each person faces a mandatory minimum of ten years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine of $4,000,000, and many individuals face substantially higher penalties due to prior felony drug convictions.

While the woman we interviewed is disappointed to see her two nephews go to jail, she says she's encouraged to see an axe come down on drug activity that hurts her community.

"You've got people giving their last to buy the drugs to get high and then they're neglecting their families," said the woman. "Maybe this sweep will help the kids -- the younger generation -- discover that selling drugs is not the way."

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