Arrest nets an array of suspects

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 15, 2008

LINDEN &8212; A recent arrest in connection with a crack cocaine operation in Marengo County is just one of many sent to federal court in recent months, Marengo County Sheriff Jesse Langley said Tuesday.

Johnny Charles Watkins Jr, 34, of Thomasville, was arrested on April 2 in Dixons Mills after a federal court in Mobile indicted him on six counts of distribution of a controlled substance.

According to Langley, Watkins&8217; arrest was not the result of a full-scale drug bust, but rather a lengthy investigation in which the sheriff&8217;s office arrested several suspects at different times over a period of several months.

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The investigation was done in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Enforcement Division, which ultimately led to Watkins&8217; case being tried on the federal and not the local level.

Langley said it is common for his office to seek the help of such larger agencies to assist in these kinds of operations involving larger drug dealers.

Another motivation behind sending Watkins case up to the federal level has to do with the county&8217;s resources, Langley said. With 10 deputies in the department, most of which are known in the county, it can be difficult to mount an undercover operation without outside assistance.

Since Langley was appointed to the position of sheriff in 1998, they have sent approximately 24-26 different drug cases to the federal level. This is a practice Langley believes keeps larger dealers from coming back to the county to try to sell drugs again.

Parole has been abolished in the federal criminal justice system. So the alternative mode of serving time, in the state penitentiary, is often less effective in permanently stopping big time drug dealers.

One reason is because state prisons are overcrowded. With up to 75 percent of the cases through the sheriff&8217;s office being drug-related, Langley said his office will continue to use whatever investigative methods necessary to fight drugs.

Since 1999, the Marengo County Sheriff&8217;s Office has been responsible for 416 drug related cases. In some of those cases, Langley said their suspect has as many as six charges against them before they can make an arrest.