The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Coastal Georgia Violent Gang Task Force met with several agencies last week to recognized them for their assistance in one of the largest and most successful gang cases in the Southern District of Georgia and the United States in recent years.
Dubbed “Operation Sandy Bottom,” the case indicted 48 members of a drug trafficking organization based in Coffee County. The Oak Park Community, referred to as “Sandridge,” was ground zero for the organization that reached counties in the southern, middle and the northern districts of Georgia. Agents dismantled the organization through court authorized wire taps, physical and electronic surveillance and controlled purchases. The tactics uncovered dirty prison guards, prisoners in leadership roles while in custody in other prisons, senior members of the organization, sources of supply in Mexico and an assassination plot against co-conspirators.
The investigation began in November, 2018, in Coffee County when the drug unit responded to the complaints of high violence in the area, including a shooting that left one man dead and another wounded.
In June, 2019, the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office case agent, FBI and ATF presented “Operation Sandy Bottom” to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) board in Savannah. The case was approved for OCDETF funding and adopted as an FBI case. During the investigation, a rival gang shootout occurred in the area leading to the arrest of co-conspirators involved in drug and firearms trafficking, and leaving one of the shooters wounded and arrested.
In October, 2019, the Coffee County K-9 unit intercepted two kilograms of methamphetamine that were sold for approximately $10,000 from a source in a surrounding county to a distributor in Coffee County. Two co-conspirators were arrested and charged with the total weight of the drugs. In the following months, agents intercepted drug shipments, contraband phones and tobacco packaged to be smuggled into the Georgia State Prison system.
In December, 2019, in a collaborated effort, agents executed search warrants at two Georgia state prisons and two residences in Hazlehurst, and seized approximately 12 pounds of methamphetamine, quantities of cocaine, marijuana, firearms, contraband phones and illicit prescription medication. Several co-conspirators were taken into custody and charged with drug trafficking crimes.
In the following weeks, agents executed additional search warrants in areas of Coffee County and Lanier County seizing approximately 13 ounces of methamphetamine, approximately one pound of ecstasy and several firearms.
In May, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted 48 members of the drug trafficking organization and preparation for a takedown began to take place. Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, planning for the take down was delayed.
On Jan. 12, 2021, the case was unsealed and raids were conducted in several counties simultaneously with armored vehicles, swat teams and other special units within the federal government. Nearly 50 members of the organization were arrested, including three prison guards and federal drug conspiracy warrants were served to inmates who were already serving state sentences. Members were arrested in Coffee, Bacon, Emmanuel, Jeff Davis, Peirce, Atkinson and Wheeler counties and other parts of Georgia. As court proceedings continue this week, nearly 90% of all the defendants have been convicted for their part in the conspiracy.
The case was seen as one of two most successful drug conspiracy cases in the nation, the Southern District of Georgia and the largest in Coffee County history. Four court ordered wiretaps were conducted and monitored and 25,619 pertinent calls and text messages were monitored. The impact of the case was so significant that Washington, D.C., took notice and FBI Director Christopher Wray signed certificates to recognize the impact of Operation Sandy Bottom and its officers.
The case is part of an OCDETF operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. It is being investigated by the FBI and the FBI Coastal Georgia Safe Streets Violent Gang Task Force; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office and the Coffee County Drug Unit; the Georgia Department of Corrections; the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office; Pierce County Sheriff’s Office; Bacon County Sheriff’s Office; Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office; Lanier County Sheriff’s Office; the Blackshear Police Department; Nicholls Police Department; Douglas Police Department; Alma Police Department; the Glynn County Police Department; the Department of Community Supervision: the Brunswick Police Department; the Swainsboro Police Department; and the Coffee County Department of Family and Children Services.
The agencies recognized with certificates were:
Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office
Coffee County Sheriff’s Office
Coffee County Drug Unit
Nicholls Police Department
Douglas Police Department
Georgia Department of Corrections/Intelligence Division
Pierce County Sheriff’s Office
Blackshear Police Department
Alma Police Department
Glynn County Sheriff’s Office
Department of Community Supervision