News Release — United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced that over the course of the last week in federal court, before Chief United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, multiple defendants have been sentenced in a large-scale heroin and marijuana trafficking organization.
The investigation was part of OCDETF Operation 190, which was named in memory of New Bern Police Department Officer Alexander Thalmann. Officer Thalmann was shot and killed in the line of duty in March of 2014 by associates of the defendants in this case.
An Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) is a joint federal, state, and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking and is the nation’s primary tool for disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, targeting national and regional level drug trafficking organizations, and coordinating the necessary law enforcement entities and resources to disrupt or dismantle the targeted criminal organization and seize their assets.
The defendants’ convictions and sentencings were the culmination of a multi-year investigation into a heroin trafficking ring operating in and around New Bern, North Carolina, and led primarily by two men: DAMIEN LAMONTE BROWN and CALVIN MARK WILSON. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and members of the New Bern Police Department learned that BROWN, WILSON, and others had been involved in ordering heroin from New York City and arranging it to be brought down in multi-kilogram amounts over a period of several years. BROWN and WILSON then supplied various mid and lower-level dealers in and around New Bern with the heroin for sale.
As part of the investigation, law enforcement conducted over twenty controlled purchases of heroin from organization members between November 2016 and July 2017, along with traffic stops and other encounters in which they confirmed that members possessed drugs and guns. Based on that investigation, ATF then obtained authorization for a federal wiretap of cellular phones associated with WILSON and two co-defendants. As a result, agents intercepted calls and texts over a three-month period in late 2017 showing that WILSON was directing the supply and distribution of kilogram-levels of heroin from New York to New Bern, NC. Based on intercepted calls, agents were able to stop and arrest WILSON and two co-defendants traveling back from New York with 3lbs of marijuana and 7 bars of heroin cutting agent.
ATF made arrests of many of the defendants on October 24, 2017, along with searches of five residences associated with the organization. Through the life of the investigation, law enforcement has seized over a kilogram of heroin and twenty firearms.
The defendants include:
• DAMIEN LAMONTE BROWN, aka “Dame,” 36, of New Bern, NC. BROWN was convicted in August 2018 by a federal jury of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute one hundred (100) grams or more of heroin, possession with intent to distribute one hundred (100) grams or more of heroin, and possession of a firearm by felon. BROWN was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment.
• DERRICK LAMONT DAVIS, aka “Gucci,” 35, of Kinston, NC. DAVIS was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute one hundred (100) grams or more of heroin. DAVIS was sentenced to 48 months’ imprisonment.
• DWAYNE LEE STALLINGS, aka “Smiley,” 35, of Cove City, NC. STALLINGS was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon and was sentenced to 108 months’ imprisonment.
• NASSAR TURE MACK, 37, of New Bern, NC. MACK was convicted of possession of a firearm by felon and was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment.
• MARIO CORRELLUS BARGNEARE, aka “Rio,” 39, of New Bern, NC. BARGNEARE was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute one hundred (100) grams or more of heroin and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. BARGNEARE was sentenced to 204 months’ imprisonment.
• DEREK JACQUAN WIGGINS, aka “DJ,” 38, of New Bern, NC. WIGGINS was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin, several counts of distributing heroin, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment.
• ROY JAMES NOLON, aka “Henny,” 21, of New Bern, NC. NOLON was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He was sentenced to 96 months’ imprisonment.
• MICHAEL QUALEEK VELASQUEZ, aka “Moo Moo,” 23, of New Bern, NC. VELASQUEZ was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. He was sentenced to 96 months’ imprisonment.
• LAMAR HOSEA WIGGINS, aka “LB,” 39, of New Bern, NC. WIGGINS was convicted of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to 96 months’ imprisonment.
• LASHAWNNA JAQUETTE MCCOTTER, aka “Flossy,” 47, of New Bern, NC. McCOTTER was convicted of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana. She was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment.
• LATREKA DENISE HARDESTY, aka “T,” 27, of New Bern, NC. HARDESTY was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. She was sentenced to time served.
• ADRIENNE MICHELLE HALL, 35, of New Bern, NC. HALL was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. She was sentenced to time served.
• CAROLINE LOUISE HUGHES, 28, of Alliance, NC. HUGHES was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin. She was sentenced to 5 years probation.
Three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced over the course of the next few months. They are:
• CALVIN MARK WILSON, aka “Bali,” 34, of New Bern, NC. WILSON was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute one thousand grams or more of heroin and a quantity of marijuana and possession with intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana. WILSON faces a sentence of not less than 20 years’ imprisonment.
• WILLIE FRANK JAMES AHERN, aka “White, White Bread, Dribs,” 39, of Bayboro, NC. AHERN was convicted of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and several instances of distributing quantities of heroin. AHERN faces up to life imprisonment.
• WALTER NAJEE GREEN, III, 21, of New Bern, NC. GREEN was convicted of distribution of a quantity of heroin and faces up to 30 years’ imprisonment.
The investigation also led to 8 individuals being charged by the state for drug offenses. Those charges remain pending.
The investigation of this case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), New Bern Police Department, Jacksonville Police Department, Craven County Sheriff’s Office, Pamlico County Sheriff’s Office, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, Trent Woods Police Department, Carteret County Sheriff’s Office, Morehead City Police Department, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, and with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Assistant United States Attorney Laura S. Howard prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.
3202 Neuse Blvd., the Howling Dog Saloon. Google Street View photo
The Board of Aldermen gave City Attorney Scott Davis direction to file a lawsuit if necessary that would permanently close down a New Bern bar that has been the location of shootings and fights.
The bar, the Howling Dog Saloon at 3202 Neuse Blvd., was the location of two shooting incidents, one in June that wounded two, and one in May 2017 that left one dead and two injured. A fight in August 2016 left a woman with a severe facial laceration.
ABC recently revoked the bar’s licenses. Davis sought permission to file a lawsuit that would not only permanently close Howling Dog Saloon, but would prevent 3202 Neuse Blvd. from being used as a bar in the future and prevent the operator of the Howling Dog Saloon from operating a bar elsewhere in the city.
Davis said the city has attempted to work with the owner to keep the peace at the location, without success.
The Howling Dog Saloon is also known as Flyers 69. The owner had also owned Flyers 70 at 4310 Highway 70 East (just outside city limits) and Flyers 55 on Highway 55 East in Pamlico County. Both of those bars are no longer in business.
The 3202 Neuse Blvd. location has been a neighborhood bar since it was built in 1965, according to county tax records. Davis said the owner of the building rents it to the bar operator, who he did not identify.
District Attorney Scott Thomas is warning all residents of Carteret, Craven, and Pamlico Counties to be wary of a variety of crimes that are typically committed following a major catastrophe, such as Hurricane Florence, and to report any and all such crimes as soon as possible.
Thomas said, “Following a major event such as the damage done by Hurricane Florence, we typically see most residents – friends, neighbors, even complete strangers – band together and lend a helping hand toward recovery. However, experience has also taught that there are predators who commit, and try to commit, despicable crimes to scam vulnerable people out of their money. My prayers are with our neighbors who have suffered as a result of Hurricane Florence. After each of these tragic storm events, we emerge, as a community, stronger and closer together. We will work through the aftermath of Florence and move forward in a positive direction. Unfortunately, after major storms in our prosecutorial district of Carteret, Craven and Pamlico Counties, scammers show up to commit crimes. In the past, we have prosecuted these criminals — and we will do so again. If you become a victim of a scammer, file a complaint with your local law enforcement agency immediately so it can be investigated and reviewed for prosecution. Scammers are put on notice that their conduct will not be tolerated in our district. They will be investigated, charged with the most serious provable offense, and prosecuted vigorously.”
One of the most common crimes committed following a storm is fraud committed by so-called contractors who offer a range of services, from tree cutting and removal, to home repairs, to paving and masonry work. Often, these persons are unlicensed, and while they have a good sales pitch, they are only looking to steal. Once they get a “downpayment,” they quickly cash the check, and flee that neighborhood, moving on to the next possible victim. No reputable contractor should require payment up front to purchase materials for any construction project. Homeowners should always check the background of a contractor before entering into any agreement, written or otherwise, to work on their home. Warning signs of a possible scam include: pressure to pay up front; pressure to pay in cash rather than by check or credit card; a lack of a North Carolina phone number, office, or work location; an obvious lack of tools, equipment, or manpower to undertake the job; a lack of references in this area; and a lack of a license issued by the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors (www.nclbgc.org). When in doubt, do not pay. There are plenty of honest, hard-working contractors in our three counties to hire and trust. Often, a simple check of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s site will uncover prior criminal records: https://webapps.doc.state.nc.us/opi/offendersearch.do?method=view.
These kinds of cases usually result in felony criminal charges of Obtaining Property by False Pretense, and, depending on the circumstances, Exploitation of the Elderly or Disabled. Even attempting to get money by misrepresentation is a felony, and can result in prison sentences. Depending on the amount involved, the criminal can face mandatory prison sentences. The District Attorney’s Office will also explore every possible aggravating factor in order to increase those prison sentences.
Thomas added, “In order to solve these cases and successfully bring charges, we need all homeowners to pay careful attention, and make notes – not just of the person’s name and business name, but the business phone numbers, the make and model of any vehicles on your property, the license plate numbers for those vehicles, and copies of any forms of payment you make. Without this information, often law enforcement cannot find the person who defrauded the homeowner, and they are able to escape justice. Keep all contracts, estimates, business cards, and other paperwork, and take plenty of photographs – not just of the damage to be repaired, but of the people who come to your house to perform work, and their vehicles. If they are nervous about your taking pictures, tell them to leave and not come back.”
Charities in our area perform amazing and under-appreciated work following natural disasters such as hurricanes; however, sometimes unscrupulous people will pose as representatives for charities, and seek donations of cash or property (clothing, furniture, even vehicles) while intending to simply steal these items. Before making any charitable donations, take the time to confirm that the charity is a reputable one, and that your donation is going directly to the charity. Sites such as www.charitywatch.org, and www.give.org have done background work on charities and provide reliable information whether to trust them with your donations. Again, if you suspect fraud involving someone soliciting contributions, report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency.
Reports of scams and frauds should not be made using the 911 system. Please only use 911 when an emergency situation exists and needs immediate response. In all other cases, call your law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number to make a report. An officer will respond, and often a detective or investigator will then continue the investigation. These non-emergency numbers include:
New Bern Police: (252) 672-4100
Carteret County Sheriff: (252) 728-8400
Morehead City Police: (252) 726-5361
Newport Police: (252) 223-5410
Emerald Isle Police: (252) 354-2021
Pine Knoll Shores Police: (252) 247-2474
Atlantic Beach Police: (252) 726-2523
Cape Carteret Police: (252) 393-2183
Craven County Sheriff: (252) 636-6620
Havelock Police: (252) 447-3212
Trent Woods Police: (252) 637-3030
River Bend Police: (252) 638-1108
Vanceboro Police: (252) 244-0440
Bridgeton Police: (252) 637-2033
Pamlico County Sheriff: (252) 745-3101
Oriental Police: (252) 249-0369
Another common report made after hurricanes and other catastrophes is that of price gouging. The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office notes the following:
North Carolina’s price gouging law is usually triggered when the state suffers or is threatened by a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, winter storm, or flooding. Price gouging—or charging too much in times of crisis—is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared or proclaimed by the Governor or a municipality. The price gouging law is currently in effect for the state of North Carolina after a State of Emergency was declared on Sept. 7, 2018 related to Hurricane Florence. Under the law, the Attorney General’s Office can put a stop to price gouging and seek refunds for consumers who paid too much. The courts may also impose civil penalties against price gougers of up to $5,000 for each violation.
If you suspect an instance of price gouging, report it immediately using the Attorney General’s online form available here.
Occasionally, there also appear some claims of insurance fraud following a storm such as Hurricane Florence. If you suspect any kind of insurance fraud, you may report it to the North Carolina Department of Insurance by email at email@example.com, or by calling 888-680-7684.
Thomas said, “My first concern is, obviously, for the well-being of everyone in Carteret, Craven, and Pamlico Counties, and I hope that all residents take proper precautions for their own safety. I urge everyone in the coming weeks to be vigilant about possible scams, and to err on the side of caution and call the police if you have suspicions of improper or criminal behavior. As always, report emergencies to 911, and gather as much information as possible to help us prosecute these criminals.”