By Sarah Pegues
PALESTINE – Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced Tuesday, Jan. 14 that a 20-month narcotics and firearms trafficking investigation reached its conclusion.
Agents with the DPS Criminal Investigation Division – with assistance from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office, the Palestine Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force and the U.S. Attorney’s Office – completed an operation which led to the indictment of 22 defendants, primarily in Anderson County.
According to a press release issued by the DPS, “Sixteen defendants have been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. The charge is a first degree felony, punishable by a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
“Six defendants face federal charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine/possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of firearms.”
The press release explained that the investigation began in May 2012 when information regarding a possible drug trafficking organization operating within Anderson County was provided by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.
“This prompted a collaborative effort between local, state and federal agencies, whose undercover agents and investigators were able to purchase narcotics and firearms from the individuals indicted,” the press release stated.
“The case came to a conclusion with the identification and indictment of key members in the alleged drug trafficking organization.”
The office of Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe received sealed indictments against the individuals from the Anderson County Grand Jury on Thursday, Jan. 2.
At approximately 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14, “the above mentioned agencies – along with DPS SWAT, SRT-1 and Texas Highway Patrol Troopers – served warrants at two locations within the city limits of Palestine,” the press release read.
The service of the warrant resulted in 18 individuals being taken into custody. Methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and a pistol were seized by investigators.
As of press time, the following individuals were incarcerated at the Anderson County Jail, and their charges are as follows.
“Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine and Possession of a Firearm While Illegally in the United States:
Juan Jesus Morales Gante – also known as Chuy – 21.
“Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine and Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine:
Marcela Morales Aguilar, 38
Carrie Elizabeth Clark, 32
Michael Lance Collins, 35
Daniel Galacia, 29
Hilario Escamila Gonzalez, Sr., 41
“Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity:
Timothy Mark Bowling, 51
Travis Brotherton, 57
Holly Rene Miller, 38
Bridget Anita Ferguson, 33
Larry Lynn Mills, 65
Gary Wayne Parker, Jr., 49
Amber Nicole Priehs, 23
Linda Kay Marr Smith, 53
Randall Keith Speed, 30
Jerry Wayne Turner, 47
Gilberto Estrada Vinaja, 28
Jon Dee Brown, 39”
The following individuals have yet to be located by law enforcement officials.
“Raul Hernandez Gomez, 39
Bruce James Hogue, 49
Brittney Estridge Hawthorne, 25
Jennifer Nacole Finley, 29”
Anyone who has information on the whereabouts of the suspects is encouraged to contact Anderson County Crime Stoppers at (903)-729-8477.
Sarah Pegues may be reached via email at email@example.com.