17 Charged in Lancaster-Based Federal Drug Conspiracy and Firearms Case after Multi-Year Investigation

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COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA — United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr. announced today that federal, state, and local law enforcement officers charged 16 individuals in federal court for their roles in a drug trafficking organization that operated out of the Midlands region of South Carolina.  An additional defendant was charged in a related case with violations of federal firearms laws. Charges against the 17 follow federal charges against five additional defendants in related cases, four of whom have been convicted.

A joint team of more than 55 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers made eight arrests in the case today.  Four defendants were already in custody, and five defendants remain at large.  The arrested defendants were arraigned before the Honorable Shiva V. Hodges, United States Magistrate Judge, in Columbia.

The charges follow a more than two-year long investigation by federal, state, and local law enforcement into a fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine distribution ring in the Lancaster area. The investigation resulted in the seizure of various quantities of fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine, 16 firearms, and ammunition.

“Operations like these leave our communities safer and more stable than they were before; the people of South Carolina deserve nothing less,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy.  “We will continue to work tirelessly with our federal, state, and local partners to dismantle large-scale, organized drug-dealing organizations, which cause untold levels of harm to end users, their families, and their communities.”

“This focused and collaborative effort was designed to make a long-lasting impact on the level of gun violence and criminal activity in Lancaster County,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Vince Pallozzi. “Along with our law enforcement partners, we have taken a number of violent individuals out of the community throughout this investigation and made significant progress in on-going efforts to decrease gun violence.”

“Today was a good day in Lancaster County,” said Sheriff Barry S. Faile. “Our Drug Task Force agents, along with agents from several of our state and federal partners, have been working for many months on investigating this alleged wide-ranging conspiracy. I appreciate the help we got from all quarters in bringing this operation to a close.”

The indictment charges 47 counts alleging violations of federal narcotics, firearm, and counterfeit laws for conduct spanning from February 2017 to present.  Specifically, the indictment returned by a federal Grand Jury alleges defendants distributed, and possessed with intent to distribute, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine, and that some defendants violated federal firearms laws including by possessing or using firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes.

The following defendants have been charged in the Indictment for conduct related to their alleged roles in the drug trafficking organization:

  • Clarence Grover Kirk III, 38, of Rock Hill;
  • William Earl Belk, 29, of Lancaster;
  • Celeste Allen Pardue, 47, of Lancaster;
  • Rachell Nichole House, 32, of Lancaster;
  • Berry Allen McIlwain Jr., 30, of Lancaster;
  • Richard Hopkins, 30, of Lancaster;
  • Christopher Lynn Love, 44, of Lancaster;
  • Scott Charles Catledge Jr., 27, of Lancaster;
  • Dustin Robert Barton, 33, of Lancaster;
  • Ezekiel T. Williams, 23, of Lancaster; and
  • Larry Christopher Craig, 50, of Lancaster.

In a related case, Dennis Lee Williams, 29, of Lancaster, was charged with violating federal firearms laws.

The case was a joint investigation by the ATF and Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, who were assisted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Lancaster Police Department, and the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

This case is being prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin B. Holloway, Elliott B. Daniels, Winston I. Marosek, and Michael O’Mara of the Columbia and Greenville offices are prosecuting the case.

The United States Attorney stated that all charges against these defendants are merely accusations and that all defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.