More arrests expected in Fulton County meth operation
Credible death threats have been made against Drug Task Force agents involved in one of the largest drug busts ever in Fulton County, according to 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Chief Scott Russell.
The multi-million dollar methamphetamine operation, based in Fulton County, is crumbling after the arrests of Newton "Bubba" Willingham and Rhonda Due last week.
"If anything happens to these DTF officers, I'll hold you personally responsible," Weaver told Willingham at his arraignment Oct. 4 in Fulton County Court.
Despite the threats, Russell said the DTF is preparing to dismantle what is left of of the drug operation.
"A tidal wave of arrests are coming. The people involved in this operation know we're coming, and we are ready to strike the final blows," said Russell.
The wave of arrests began Sept. 30 when Gregory S. Hurdle, 37, of Viola and Duran G. Willingham 33, of Oxford were taken into custody.
Duran Willingham is the brother of Bubba Willingham.
Hurdle and Duran Willingham have been charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, both class A felonies.
Hurdle's bond has been set at $250,000. He is being held in the Sharp County jail. Officials at the Fulton County jail said they didn't have room for Hurdle.
Duran Willingham has been in the custody of the Howell County Sheriff's Department in Missouri, where he faces similar drug charges.
"The vast majority of methamphetamine found in Fulton, Izard, Howell and Oregon counties can be traced to these individuals," said Russell.
Three lesser players in the operation, Kermit Comstock, Billy Comstock and JoCasta Michelle, were arrested after a traffic stop Oct. 2.
Both Comstocks and Michelle have been charged with possessing drug paraphernalia with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use. Bond has been set at $50,000 apiece.
Russell said the drug operation began to fall apart last week after officers with the Arkansas State Police arrested Willingham and Due after a traffic stop in Mitchell Sept. 24.
He said Willingham and Due are the "heads" of a multi-million dollar drug enterprise that stretches from West Plains, Mo., to Pocahontas, Salem and Melbourne.
Hurdle, Duran Willingham and Richard Crabtree of Viola are "significant players" in the operation, said Russell.
Crabtree, 37, was arrested Sept. 24 after a high speed chase west on Salem on Highway 62. Officers from the Arkansas State Police, DTF and Fulton County Sheriff's Department executed a "rolling roadblock" to stop Crabtree. Inside Crabtree's vehicle, officers found methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia.
Crabtree pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to possession of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Before being sentenced, Crabtree told Judge Weaver that he has been addicted to drugs and been a drug dealer for over 20 years.
Weaver was visibly angry by Crabtree's response.
"Do you know how many lives you've ruined over the last 20 years, Mr. Crabtree?" Weaver asked.
Crabtree was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
"There are other, smaller heads in this organization who are on our hit list. They will be arrested soon," Russell said.
He said he expects 10 to 15 arrests related to this case in Fulton County over the next two weeks.
Russell said the arrests came after a year-long investigation by the DTF. He said the methamphetamine operation headed by Bubba Willingham and Due produced at least one ounce of methamphetamine every day for the last year.
One ounce of methamphetamine has an approximate street value of $2,800.
Russell said there were days when the operation produced up to eight ounces of methamphetamine, worth over $20,000.
Within the organization each of the major conspirators played a key role, he said.
Richard Crabtree was responsible for distributing methamphetamine throughout Fulton County. Duran Willingham was responsible for cooking the methamphetamine, while Hurdle was responsible for procuring the necessary ingredients to make the drug, he said.
Kermit and Billy Comstock and Michelle assisted the operation by purchasing ingredients and helping in the meth manufacture process.
"About 30 people are involved in this drug ring," said Russell. All of them have previous convictions and none of them has a steady job, he said.
Russell said the DTF has spent thousands of dollars and countless man hours building the case against Willingham, Due and their associates.
He said he expects federal indictments in the case. "I've contacted the U.S. District Attorney (Ann Gardner) concerning federal indictments in this drug conspiracy. The case could go before a federal grand jury in a couple of weeks," Russell said.
Russell said any threats of violence against law officers will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
He said over the next week this drug operation will be dismantled. DTF agents have been working for two weeks straight, 16 hours a day. "But it's worth it to see these guys put away," he said.
While methamphetamine traffic has been severely curtailed by this bust, Russell has a warning for other methamphetamine dealers in the area.
"If you're going to do this stuff, you're going to do it somewhere else. I will find you and bring you to justice," Russell said.
The trial for Willingham, Due and Hurdle has been scheduled for February 2005.
The Fulton County Sheriff's Department has placed a hold on Duran Willingham until he is released from Howell County authorities. When he is released he will be formally arraigned in Fulton County Circuit Court.
Kermit Comstock's, Billy Comstock's and Michelle's arraignment dates were unknown at press time.