The two year drug enforcement effort, Operation Bitter Orange just wrapped up and the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is calling it the best example of local and federal teamwork they have witnessed in years.
Newberry Sheriff Lee Foster says efforts like this are more effective with federal help and they can go after the assets of drug kingpins and that much of the assets are returned to local law enforcement. “The great part about that is the federal government sends that back down to the local government who can use that much more today in times of budget cuts and across-the-board cuts that we’re getting every day.”
Foster says that seizing the assets of high-level drug traffickers is a powerful punishment. “With a drug dealer, when you get to the top of an operation like we have here, it’s about money. It’s not about supplying their habit of using drugs. It’s about supplying them with money and power. So if we can get into that money and power then you further degradate the drug operations.”
Operation Bitter Orange broke up a cocaine trafficking operation that originated in Corpus Christie, Texas and settled in Orangeburg under kingpin Sigmund James. The US Attorney’s office says with 56 convictions, they have almost shut down this drug network. They also warn that others will pop up to fill the demand.
Nancy Wicker, chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s office gave these statistics: “Operation Bitter Orange has resulted in the seizure of more than 30 kilograms of powdered cocaine and seizures of well over a million dollars in drug-related assets. This case is an outstanding example of exactly what can be accomplished through cooperative law enforcement.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney J.D. Rowell has prosecuted these cases in Operation Bitter Orangefor the past two years. He says that Orangeburg was not only a stop on the pipeline, but where drugs were being dealt on the streets. “I don’t think people are aware of how much it is on the street level, and where it is. If you look at the high school and look at the area surrounding the high school, you could see the main street level dealings.”
Prosecutors, sheriffs, state and federal agents met Monday, December 21, to make the announcement in Columbia. SLED chief Reggie Lloyd says busts like these are “Just the tip of the iceberg in drug activity in the state.” Lloyd continued saying, “Folks who are involved in very high level trafficking out of Atlanta are being pushed out of there because of the concentration of law enforcement. They’re coming to states like Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. We want to get ahead of that. There’s a lot of violence that’s attached to the drug trade in this state.”
Newberry Sheriff Lee Foster says he is glad to team up with federal agents in overcoming the drug trad. “When you can pick out individuals that are responsible for major drug trafficking and you send them to the federal government, they get more time. They stay in jail longer, and It’s a tremendous amount of punishment because they’re generally away from their families. They get shipped to Kentucky or Tennessee of Florida -not right here. So, it’s much more stringent punishment.”