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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Delta Blues — a massive bust UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 2:31 PM

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer image
  • Thyer

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer image
  • Thyer
UPDATE: U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer said Operation Delta blues had been underway two years and produced seven indictments naming 70 people, including five Helena-West Helena police officers. The top charges are conspiracy to distribute drugs, but include a variety of weapons, money laundering and other charges. More than 50 of those 70 were arrested today in an operation involving more than 800 officers.

Thyer said, as a resident of Northeast Arkansas, he’d long heard of a general belief of corruption in the Delta, but didn’t want to believe it. But he found that police officers were protecting drug dealers and other evidence of public corruption in a probe that targeted the Marianna and Helena-West Helena areas.

Thyer said Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis had come to see him recently about corruption in his city. He asked for help. Thyer said he couldn’t tell him then what he told him today: “The federal government is here and it is here to stay.” He compared a “small minority” responsible for crimes to sprouting weeds in a garden. He said the government would continue its work until all the weeds in Phillips, Lee and other counties “have been pulled up by their roots.”

An FBI spokesman said the investigation would continue and subpoenas would be served to obtain more information from local governments. She said no one was harmed in arrests today, though one suspect fired shots without hitting anyone.

Here's the full release summarizing the operation. The indictments against the cops detail alleged cash payments and involvement in drug dealing.

At the news conference, FBI Agent in Charge Valarie Parlave said that payments to cops led to some charges being dropped or not pursued. The dropping of charges, by necessity, would require notice to other officers of the court, potentially a line of continuing inquiry.

FROM EARLIER:

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer has scheduled a news conference later today in Helena to announce a "significant" number of indictments and arrests for Operation Delta Blues. Drug charges are a major component of what's to come, but also official corruption.

A couple of lawyers from around the state have sent me notes about the enormous scope of this operation. Those arrested today included no political figures. But the indictment of five Helena-West Helena officers raised suspicions that they might no be alone. The city's new police chief cheered those arrests).

I have an e-mail saying that arrests were made in, among others, Marianna, Rondo, Marvell, Poplar Grove and Helena-West Helena. A National Guard armory was used to hold those arrested.

The first round is a big deal. But there's a belief that key people rounded up today could have information to share on people up the food chain.

More here on the new Helena-West Helena police chief, Uless Wallace, who took over last month, and his vow for action to get tough on drug trafficking and other crime. He told the local paper he'd made 27 drug arrests in recent days — meth, cocaine, prescription drugs and marijuana.

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