$1.3 million drug bust results in five arrests

The Burke County Sheriff’s Office assisted in a two-year long operation that uncovered more than $1.3 million in marijuana and resulted in the arrest of five drug manufacturers and dealers.

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Southeastern Regional Drug Enforcement Office (GBI SRDEO) executed four separate search warrants in Burke and Jenkins counties related to the ongoing investigation in which commercial marijuana growing operations run by a Cuban drug trafficking organization from Miami- Homestead, Fla., were targeted. According to the BCSO, three of the warrants led to the discovery of three large and sophisticated indoor operations, totaling 240 high grade plants and 31 pounds of processed product. Additionally, several firearms, including rifles with night vision scopes, a number of vehicles and a total of $46,420 in currency were seized by the GBI. While the fourth search warrant yielded evidence of a prior operation, the operation was not active and the residence was unoccupied.

One Waynesboro man, Ernesto Rodriguez, 38, of 4941 River Road, was arrested as well as four other subjects from Millen, including Yurien Almeida, 33, and Saili Fundora Penate, 31, both of 5309 Sid Lanier Road, and Nestor Rodriguez, 30, and Sisleydis Almisaday Vegan Fierra, 24,both of 4019 Highway 25 South.

They were each charged with manufacturing marijuana and possession with intent to distribute. Additionally, Rodriguez was charged with felony possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. According to the sheriff’s office, all charges will be presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia for prosecution. As the investigation remains active, additional arrests are anticipated. Anyone with information should contact the GBI SRDEO in Metter at 912.685.5345.

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams explained that the local SRTSWAT team, comprised of deputies from various departments within the sheriff’s office, assisted in the execution of the warrant in Burke County.

“Having highly trained individuals within our agency ensures we are able to handle extremely dangerous situations such as this while also being prepared for unknown situations such as an active shooter in a school, church, courthouse or business instead of waiting an hour for a team from Augusta or the Georgia State Patrol to respond,” he said. “We continue to strive daily to be fully prepared for the various needs of ensuring the safety of all citizens within the 835 square miles of Burke County.”

These deputies, he added, receive advanced and specialized training and equipment, which helped shield them in Tuesday’s particularly dangerous and possibly deadly situation in which the rifles and night vision scopes were set up in the windows at the two residences. Over the last two years, this team has executed more than 20 search warrants involving drug activity, assisted the police department when under fire from a semi-automatic rifle and resolved four separate incidents of threatened suicide.

“The Burke County Sheriff’s Office has made it clear that drug manufacturing and dealing will not be tolerated in this county, and we will continue to partner with local, state and federal authorities as needed to bring down drug dealers,” Chief Deputy Lewis Blanchard said, adding that murder has greatly decreased since 2017. “Although all have been solved through an arrest, the contributing factor in each and every murder has been marijuana, sometimes combined with other drugs. The only way to lower crime rates is to take a pro-active approach to policing and drug reduction. The statistics clearly show it is working as violent and property crimes have plummeted by fifty percent in Burke County while increasing in other areas of the state and throughout the country as a whole. We would not have been able to achieve these great reductions in crime had it not been for so many within the community helping us with information in an effort to make their community better for everyone; for that, we are truly blessed and grateful.”

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