By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats and his deputies sent a loud and clear message to the drug dealers who have taken up shop in the county — you are not welcome here.
“It’s not just Harnett County, you’ve got them in every county,” he said. “But my No. 1 goal is to protect the citizens of this county. I’ve said it before, I have no use for drugs and you better constantly look over your shoulder, we’re going to be knocking on your door when you least expect it — if you want to deal drugs, you need to leave Harnett County and do it somewhere else, not in this county.”
The point was backed up Thursday morning — during what Sheriff Coats deemed Operation Skylight — when more than 35 deputies executed three search warrants in the Anderson Creek area — two simultaneously — and took some of the area’s high-level drug dealers and several of their cronies into custody after a four-monthlong investigation.
As a result of the investigation, three search warrants were issued, 17 defendants were named and 172 drug charges were filed. Included were 73 trafficking charges, 52 of which were for trafficking heroin/opium and 21 were for trafficking cocaine.
Other charges include maintaining a dwelling for use of controlled substances and conspiracy. Also included were charges related to the use of forged prescriptions such as identity theft, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and selling or possessing controlled substances.
“They did an outstanding job,” Sheriff Coats said referring to the drug agents involved in Operation Skylight. “It showed in the last operations we’ve done. Some of (the suspects apprehended in the previous raids) are already trying to plead their federal time. That was our goal to get them into federal court and they know they’re going to prison. That’s because of the hard work of these men, women and everybody involved.”
Along with taking suspects into custody, Sheriff Coats said one goal was to build a strong enough case for the filing of federal charges.
Operation Skylight was the third such operation the HCSO has conducted in an effort to get the more stringent, longer sentences that come with federal drug-related charges. Sheriff Coats said federal charges are the most effective way to get the suppliers and the dealers off the streets for more than just a few days.
“We can arrest a few here and there, then they’re out on bond so quickly,” he said. “It takes time to build cases like this and get them in federal court and that’s our goal. And so far we’ve accomplished our goal.”
Targeted during the initial raids were the alleged ring-leader, Torell Jerome “Rell” Capel, and his apparent right-hand man, Jacquail Antonio Ridges, from homes on Ashley Court, which is located near Spring Lake and just a few miles from Overhills Elementary School.
Both men were taken into custody without incident around 10 a.m. Thursday.
According to sheriff’s Lt. Josh Christensen, who headed the investigation, Mr. Capel was charged with 44 drug-related charges, charges that include 24 counts of trafficking heroin.
Mr. Ridges faces 10 drug-related charges, including six related to trafficking heroin.
The two men were captured in a pair of perfectly executed raids of modular homes sitting next door to one another. Deputies on the two search teams had little trouble executing the search warrants and were able to secure the scene within a matter of moments.
Once inside the houses, officers found 50 grams of heroin (valued at $100,000), 25 grams of crack cocaine ($10,000) and 14 grams of powder cocaine ($2,800). Officers also found $4,041 in United States currency stuffed in Crown Royal whisky bags, a .380-caliber handgun and several items suspected to be stolen.
“The raids were a success just by going to the two main search warrants and our suspects being there,” Lt. Christensen said. “The operation, in total, was a great success seeing the amount of defendants we were able to get in a short amount of time. Mainly, most of the defendants were selling heroin or their prescription pills.”
As of Thursday afternoon, 13 of 17 suspects were taken into custody and were secured in the Harnett County Detention Center on secured bonds ranging from $200,000 to $1 million.
HCSO Maj. Jeff Huber also said there were two suspects taken into custody that were unrelated to the case. Their arrests came during the execution of the third search warrant. The two were not identified and no further information on charges against them was immediately available.
The sheriff issued a final warning to those who choose to deal drugs instead of becoming productive members of society.
“These folks, they don’t want to work,” he said. “They want to do their drugs and steal from the folks in this county. They’re going to have to do it somewhere else, not in this county.”