Three people were arrested in Florence as part of Federal drug investigation called "Operation Stone Dragon."
Federal and local agents searched a home on East Lee Avenue in Florence Tuesday morning. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney said the search was part of an investigation into a marijuana and contraband cigarette trafficking organization that operated throughout the country.
The organization allegedly conspired to manufacture and distribute more than $45 million worth of pot, and to illegally distribute nearly 44-million cigarettes, resulting in more than $7-million in lost tax revenue.
In all, 32 members of the organization were arrested Tuesday morning in New York, New Jersey, California, Tennessee, Alabama, and Rhode Island in a joint effort between federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.
As part of the operation, two brothers in California allegedly maintained a network of marijuana grow locations. In 2012, agents seized more than 200 pounds of processed marijuana and about 185 plants from one of their locations.
The marijuana grown by the brothers, along with contraband cigarettes, were shipped by tractor trailer from the Los Angeles are throughout the United States, using a trucking company owned and operated by a husband and wife.
Other members of the operation would then allegedly unload the trucks at a warehouse.
The money generated by the operation was also allegedly laundered. Members allegedly shipped cash from the East Coast back to California using the same trucks used to ship the marijuana. In 2012, agents seized about $110,000 in cash from one suspect, which had been concealed in boxes filled with lollipops.
Authorities arrested 51-year-old Denise Ragland, 27-year-old Norris Patterson, and 40-year-old Oakley Simpson on marijuana conspiracy charges in Florence. If convicted, they face life in prison with 10 year mandatory minimum.
A total of 37 people nation-wide were arrested in the operation.
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