At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong stood behind a podium overlooking a table filled with firearms and drugs seized during a recent investigation.
The displayed evidence was the result of Operation “Paradise White,” an investigation that began in April and targeted a criminal enterprise responsible for flooding the Binghampton and Mitchell Heights communities with cocaine.
During the press conference, which took place at the office of MPD’s Organized Crime Unit (OCU), Armstrong announced 23 people had been indicted for conspiracy to commit unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell more than 300 grams of cocaine and/or conspiracy to commit unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver more than 300 grams of cocaine. The people indicted range from upper-level cocaine traffickers to street-level dealers.
Search warrants executed by the OCU during the investigation resulted in the seizure of 4,126 grams of cocaine; 11.6 grams of marijuana; $200,598.34 in currency; 23 firearms; and 10 vehicles.
In November, the MPD presented its seizures and information to the Shelby County Grand Jury and indicted 23 people. At the present time, Armstrong said 17 of the 23 have been arrested.
“There are a lot of neighborhoods in Memphis tonight that are going to be a lot safer,” Armstrong said. “People are going to sleep a whole lot better knowing there will not be a war as it relates to drugs and the proceeds from drugs and the weapons that you see in front of you.”
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said those indicted face from 15 to 25 years in prison. But if any of the defendants have prior felony convictions, they face much stiffer penalties.
“Imagine kicking in a door and running into a suspect and this is what you see,” Armstrong said while holding an AR-15, one of the weapons seized during the investigation. “We sleep a lot better knowing that we put a dent in [the local drug trade]. We have a lot of work to do, and we recognize that. But these weapons won’t be used on any of my officers or on any of the citizens of Memphis.”
The criminal enterprise reportedly imported cocaine in from Texas, a known pipeline in the Memphis drug trade.
“We’re always looking for the source,” Armstrong said. “We recognize the fact that as soon as we lock up some street-level dealer on the corner, more than likely there’s somebody to take his place before we can complete the paperwork. Before we can actually see any changes in this, this is what has to happen. We have to take out criminal enterprises.”