Fentanyl

Greenwood County DEU agents seized 338 fentanyl pills in a drug investigation with a "v" and "4812" in late 2017.

When he awoke one Tuesday morning, just 150 miles of blacktop separated Deandre “D.D” Miles and his 2015 Chevy Camaro from Charlotte.

Going down Interstate 85, it’s just a 2 1/2 hour drive from Creedmoor to North Carolina’s Queen City — an easy day trip. The 35-year-old North Carolinian and his wife soon departed.

After quick stops at a pair of convenience stores and a Charlotte apartment complex, the couple headed toward home.

With a week until Christmas, they stopped at the Tanger Outlets in Mebane, just off I-85, for some shopping before finishing the drive.

All the while, they were being tracked.

After getting court approval, investigators had planted a GPS tracking device on the underside of Miles’ black Camaro weeks earlier. Thinking his trip to Charlotte might be to pick up a drug shipment from his South Carolina source and having a nearly decade-old arrest warrant on a misdemeanor count of injury to personal property, officers stopped him five miles from his house.

The vehicle smelled of marijuana, which Miles admitted to smoking while driving, and a K-9 indicated the possible presence of drugs during a scan of the outside of the vehicle. The criminal complaint said officers used this as probable cause to search the vehicle.

While authorities reported finding a number of items in the vehicle, such as four cellphones and “a fake bladder/urine apparatus to aid in passing urine drug testing,” recountings of the Dec. 18, 2018, search focused more on a bag that was wedged between two seats.

The brown paper bag concealed a shoebox that contained a white plastic bag. Inside that bag, investigators found 10,000 or so blue pills that contained fentanyl — a highly addictive synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Those pills were a product of the Lakelands.

During a span when Greenwood County was seeing a rise in fatal fentanyl overdoses, authorities say a top-level drug operation was taking fentanyl and other narcotics from Mexico and pressing them into pills. Peddling the potent product grew what was a hometown operation to an organization distributing across at least two states.

While 13 codefendants were indicted last year in connection with the operation, 10 of whom have been sentenced, an untold number of others have been prosecuted in separate cases stemming from the Greenwood ring’s illicit product.

Among them was Miles, who pleaded guilty last year in federal court to one count of possession with the intent to distribute 400 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl.

Miles, now 37, was sentenced on Wednesday to 95 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release. The details of the plea agreement are sealed, but a drug conspiracy count was dismissed at sentencing.

Investigation’s beginning

In February 2018, investigators zeroed in on Miles, who was already on supervised release after a drug conviction in Virginia. Authorities say a confidential source identified him as a significant seller in Halifax and Northampton counties — a six-hour drive from Greenwood nearly in Virginia.

The informant said Miles would call a number of local dealers when he got in a shipment and meet them along Warner Bridge Road, a rural section of roadway near Gaston and just a few miles from Interstate 95. Halifax County deputies set up surveillance and even tried to stop a car after it left a suspected rendezvous with Miles, which led to a police pursuit through Roanoke Rapids.

In October 2018, deputies executed a search warrant at a Roanoke Rapids residence and turned up nearly 400 grams of heroin. A cooperating defendant, Terry Louis Kearney, later told investigators that Miles was his source for the drugs.

Kearney, who was indicted alongside Miles, pleaded guilty last year to possession with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin. He was sentenced in January to five years in prison and five years of supervised release.

Days after the search, a second confidential source told deputies that Miles had picked up three kilos of heroin, which he’d already distributed at Warner Bridge Road. A few weeks later, a third informant told authorities that Miles went to New York to pick up a pound of heroin and about 4,000 fentanyl pills.

In court filings, investigators noted that while Miles owned several vehicles, he seemed to drive the Camaro for his drug transactions and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation sought a warrant to place a tracking device on the vehicle.

Miles’ attorney tried to have that warrant thrown out because, among other things, it took investigators more than 48 hours to install the GPS tracking device from when the warrant was issued. Prosecutors, however, noted the length of time wasn’t for lack of trying.

On the first attempt, the tracker wasn’t working. On the next night, investigators weren’t able to get under the vehicle to attach the device. On Nov. 30, 2018, the third night, “an additional (and thinner) agent rode with them to the residence and he was able to successfully install the tracker,” one filing said.

The motion to suppress the warrant was eventually withdrawn.

The arrest

As Miles was traveling northeast along I-85 from Charlotte, a Homeland Security special agent departed from Cary, North Carolina, using the GPS tracking data to home in on the Camaro’s location.

Using the tracking information from the device underneath Miles’ Camaro, the agent caught up with him and watched as the couple went to Tanger Outlets, then made two other pit stops. He called ahead to deputies in Granville County and arranged for them to stop the car.

Miles pulled into the Variety Mart in Creedmoor, a nondescript convenience store a half-mile off I-85. That’s when a deputy initiated the stop.

At first, Miles spoke to deputies. Filings say he acknowledged smoking marijuana and told officers he and his wife were returning from Christmas shopping before he then refused to speak further.

Once the special agent arrived, however, he changed course. He wanted to talk. The nearly 10,000 blue pills were his, he said, and his wife had nothing to do with them.

Back at the Granville County Sheriff’s Office, he walked deputies through the buy. He’d been in contact with a man the Friday and Saturday before to arrange his trip to Charlotte, where he paid $50,000 for the 2.24 pounds in pills. While the criminal complaint that describes the interaction only gives a nickname for his contact, court filings in South Carolina make clear the man is Jamal Latimer, who has pleaded guilty in federal court in connection to the drug operation and is awaiting sentencing.

The complaint said Miles kept repeating that the fentanyl was his, not his wife’s. He was taken into federal custody that day.

Public filings in Miles’ case don’t provide a detailed description of the pills seized in the stop, but the drug ring was known to imprint a “V” and “4812” on its product with a press that could churn out 5,000 pills an hour. A pharmaceutical company uses similar markings on legally distributed oxycodone tablets, which the organization might have been trying to mimic.

Contact Assistant Editor Matthew Hensley at 864-943-2529 or on Twitter @IJMattHensley.