UPDATED: Locals, feds bust 'major' Hancock meth ring
By Dwayne Bremer
Sep 20, 2013, 23:51
A six-month, multi-agency investigation led to the arrest of eight suspects this week in connection with an alleged methamphetamine distribution operation based in Hancock County.
On Wednesday, officials from the Hancock County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics executed three search warrants in Hancock County.
The search warrants were for homes on Firetower Road and Hubert Deschamp Road, Sheriff Ricky Adam said Wednesday.
Officers arrested seven people and recovered more than an ounce of crystal meth and nearly 100 firearms, Adam said.
An eighth suspect had previously turned himself in on a federal warrant, Adam said.
The suspects arrested were Jessey W. Bellais, 29, of Kiln; his brother William Cole Bellais, 26, of Kiln; Miranda Comfort, 21, of Kiln;
Justin Brown, 27, of DeLisle; Brennon Dedeaux, 18, of Kiln;
Heath Johnston, 33, of Kiln; Christopher Butler, 34, of Kiln; and Steven Gentry, 29, of Poplarville.
The Bellais brothers, Comfort, Brown, and Gentry were all charged federally with conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of meth.
Dedeaux, Johnston, and Butler were arrested on state narcotics and weapons charges, Hancock County Narcotics Commander Jeremy Skinner said Wednesday.
They were booked at the Hancock County Jail and are awaiting initial hearings in Hancock County Justice Court.
"This was an important operation," Adam said. "We are very grateful to the other state and federal agencies who helped facilitate these arrests. These suspects were responsible for bringing a lot of drugs into our county."
On Thursday, four of the suspects charged with federal crimes were given a preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.
Gentry, who federal agents claim is the ring leader of the group, had a preliminary hearing earlier in the week, and was ordered to remain in the Stone County Jail until his case goes to trial.
On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Walker, released Comfort on a $25,000 bond.
Walker then heard testimony about the remaining suspects. Homeland Security Agent Ben Taylor testified that his agency and MBN have been investigating the drug ring since March 2013.
He said the Bellais', Brown, and Gentry used meth "every day" and that they were armed most of the time.
Taylor said that Gentry would get the drugs from a supplier in Mexico and bring it to Hancock County via commercial trucks.
During the investigation, federal agents used confidential informants to purchase the drugs from the Bellais', Brown, Comfort and Gentry, Taylor said.
Some of the purchases were in excess of $1,000 at a time, he said.
Taylor said the drugs were tested and came back to be 99.9 percent pure meth. In addition to his testimony, Taylor said in a sworn affidavit that Gentry had gotten wind of the investigation and began riding around with an AK-47 assault rifle, claiming he would use the weapon to defend himself if agents tried to arrest him.
Taylor also said that Gentry and others began making threats to state and federal agents via text messages and social media.
Taylor said he did not think any of the suspects should be given a bond because they "are a threat to the public."
Walker declined to give any of the remaining three suspects a bond and ordered they be detained at the Pearl River County Jail until their cases are presented to a grand jury.
If convicted, each suspect faces from five to 40 years in federal prison.