KC Pit BBQ owners sentenced in drug trafficking, laundering scheme

A husband and wife convicted of drug trafficking from their Sandy Springs restaurant and several of their accomplices were sentenced to federal prison last week.

Jiles and Shannon Johnson co-owned the popular K.C. Pit BBQ on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. They were indicted in August 2010 following a dramatic lunchtime raid on the restaurant in June. Federal agents searched the cordoned off business while restaurant employees waited in parking lot.

The Johnsons were convicted of involvement in an elaborate drug-running organization that distributed thousands of kilograms of imported cocaine across the country and laundered millions of dollars in Georgia, authorities said.

The Johnsons used their barbecue restaurant to cover up the illegal activity. The restaurant’s accountant and several of the Johnson’s accomplices were also sentenced.

Jiles Johnson was sentenced to 15 years of federal prison and 5 years on supervised release after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine and one count of money laundering conspiracy in a Georgia federal court and to one count distribution of cocaine in a Philadelphia federal court, authorities said.

Shannon Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and was sentenced to three years in federal prison followed by three years supervised release.

“All of the defendants in this case are deserving of the sentences handed down, said Harry S. Sommors of the Atlanta division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Several of these individuals masked themselves as legitimate businessmen, while everyone lined their pockets with excessive profits gained from drug trafficking.”

Jiles Johnson began transporting drugs in 2003 while working as a truck driver to supplement his restaurant income, according to U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. He drove kilograms of cocaine from California to Philadelphia for Philadelphia cocaine distributor Mark Walker, 46, of Cumming and Philadelphia. Johnson also made drug runs to Kansas City and Washington, D.C.

Johnson and Walker purchased real estate in Georgia through Alpharetta broker Linda Tong, 68,who helped to cover up the large sums of money generated in drug profits, Yates said. Johnson’s real estate holdings included an 80-acre motorcycle racetrack in Twiggs County. Tong was sentenced to three years in probation, including 10 months home detention for her involvement.

Walker pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and one count of money laundering conspiracy. Combined with an existing nine-year sentence, Walker was sentenced to 17 years in prison in September, according to authorities.

The barbecue restaurant’s accountant, Tucker resident Matthew Ware, 57, was also involved in the drug ring, Yates said. When paid in cash by Johnson, Ware would then transfer money to some of his clients in return for legitimate payments to Johnson’s business. Yates said Ware utilized client and financial planner Jacques Degaule, 52, of Atlanta, to deposit more than $7 million in drug proceeds to banks in three states.

Ware received a six-year federal prison sentence with three years supervised release in October for one count of money laundering conspiracy. Degaule pleaded guilty to interstate racketeering charges and was sentenced in September to three years in federal prison.

Lawrenceville car broker Evan Francis,48, and Walker’s accomplice Schawn Lemon Wortham, 52, of Sandy Springs were also involved, according to Yates. Francis was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Wortham was sentenced to two years, 6 months. Seven others with connections to the organization in Georgia, Mexico, and Philadelphia also received sentences.

“Businesses and professionals who use legitimate organizations to filter laundered drug proceeds denigrate legitimate earnings while destroying the jobs of those who work in those businesses,” Yates said. “Illegal drugs lure many into that lifestyle with offers of big money, easily made. In the end, what really happens is lives are destroyed, businesses close, and the dealers go to jail.”