Stash house

Investigators think this property, at 4090 Jefferson Davis Road in Mountville, was one of two stash houses used by a Greenwood-linked drug ring that was importing fentanyl and heroin from Mexico.

A North Carolina man agreed to plead guilty in connection with what authorities think is a top-level drug ring with Greenwood ties that bought fentanyl and other drugs from Mexico and operated stash houses in Laurens County.

Celest Henry Blocker, 67, of 8828 Tin Lizza Drive, Fayetteville, North Carolina will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a kilogram or more of a substance containing heroin, according to the agreement filed Wednesday in federal court. The count carries a minimum term of 10 years in prison, with a possible maximum term of life in prison.

His other charges — interstate travel and transportation in aid of drug trafficking business, possession with intent to distribute heroin and unlawful use of communication facility — will be dismissed under the agreement, although he can be tried on those counts if he violates any terms of the plea agreement.

All 13 people indicted in connection with the ring entered pleas of not guilty, including Blocker. He could change his plea as soon as June 25.

The investigation traces its roots to a series of drug buys in October 2017.

In a joint investigation, Greenwood police and State Law Enforcement Division officers bought more than 300 fentanyl pills across five controlled purchases. Investigating the source for those pills led to what U.S. Drug Enforcement agents believed was a “drug trafficking organization.”

“Based on law enforcement sources of information, confidential source information, undercover law enforcement operations and an ongoing financial investigation, local law enforcement identified” four Greenwood-connected people “as distributors of significant quantities of cocaine and heroin and fentanyl,” prosecutors wrote in a motion for pretrial detention order. Greenwood police said once they understood the scope of the operation, they referred the case to the DEA.

Court documents detail investigators tapping phones, planting a surveillance camera and undercover agents posing as representatives of a Mexican drug cartel while gathering the evidence used to indict 11 people in February, with two additional people being charged through a 46-count superseding indictment handed up last month.

Blocker had several intercepted phone conversations with Detric McGowan, who authorities describe as a key member of the ring, to arrange a drug buy that happened in Columbia, according to an affidavit for a search warrant. Neither Blocker nor McGowan was present for the drug exchange.

After the transaction, which happened at 12:15 p.m. Jan. 29 and was observed by federal agents, the DEA arranged for Kershaw County deputies to stop the vehicle of Blocker’s surrogate, Danny Morales Lopez, also of Fayetteville, the document said. Authorities seized 14,385 blue tablets that contained a combined 1.542 kg. of heroin.

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