A joint investigation by the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office and ICE Homeland Security Investigations has led to the seizure of $4.1 million worth of methamphetamine and heroin and the arrest of a couple in the largest bust of the drugs ever in Columbus, Sheriff Donna Tompkins said Wednesday.
Anayanssy Espinosa, 42, and her husband, Ezequiel Rangel-Barajas, 33, also known as Jose Hernandez, were arrested during a Nov. 29 search at 1232 Alta Vista Drive, the sheriff said. Each is charged with trafficking in heroin and trafficking in meth. After a Nov. 30 hearing in Municipal Court, both cases were bound over to Superior Court.
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During the search, deputies from the Operations Bureau of the Investigative Unit seized 14 pounds, 7 ounces of heroin and 33 pounds, 6 ounces of meth or ice. The heroin is valued at $2.6 million and the meth is worth more than $1.5 million. Deputies also seized $42,800 in cash along with two vehicles.
In a coordinated effort with ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta, authorities seized a delivery by the target individual in Columbus with 69.4 pounds of meth. That seizure, which was made before the search warrant was conducted in Columbus, is valued at $2.8 million. Two more suspects were arrested in the Atlanta operation.
The eight-month investigation was led by Sgt. Jonnie Ellerbee under the direction of Maj. Mike Massey. Ellerbee said the 69.4 pounds came through Columbus. “This was not made here,” Ellerbee said. “This was made in a super lab somewhere. It was being processed on Alta Vista Drive.”
Deputies had hollowed-out car batteries on display to show how the meth is smuggled. Meth is made into a liquified form and can be shipped anywhere hidden inside the battery.
All told, the seizures in Columbus and Atlanta prevented more than 100 pounds of meth and 14.7 pounds of heroin from getting on the streets of Georgia, Alabama and the southeast. The combined street value of the drugs is estimated at $7.6 million.
Before taking office in January, Tompkins said she wanted to restore credibility to the office and believes the trust from the federal government is huge in the drug case. “I’m just glad we had the resources, the manpower and the knowledge that we could work a case like this with them,” the sheriff said.
Chief Deputy Troy Culpepper said the sheriff’s office received information from Homeland Security in March. “This was a Homeland Security issue,” he said. “It is a threat to the nation, a threat to this state.”
Anytime the sheriff’s office receives information, Massey said deputies will pursue it. “We feel like this saves lives,” he said. “Overdose of heroin is an epidemic right now. We feel like our investigation saved a lot of lives.”
When asked about the growing use of heroin, Tompkins said the drug is an opiate, and there is a huge opiate addiction in this country. “A lot of times people on prescription pain killers and things like that, when those resources get exhausted, those people get on heroin,” she said.
Culpepper recalled how heroin was a more prevalent drug in the late 1960s and ’70s, but federal education programs helped reduce heroin addiction. Deputies were seeing a gram or two of the drug, but now that’s changed.
“There has not been a lot of talk over the last decade about heroin use and addiction,” he said. “Now we’ve got a shift. I think there is a generation that lost the knowledge and education about heroin.”
Ellerbee said the investigation is ongoing with ICE Homeland Security Investigations. By the time the investigation is completed, the sheriff’s office will take control of the seized $42,800 in cash, Tompkins said.