4 defendants plead guilty after large-scale drug stings near Athens

Four people arrested earlier this year in large-scale drug and weapons stings have pleaded guilty to federal charges, prosecutors said Friday.

They face anywhere from five years in federal prison to life behind bars, depending on their charges and upcoming sentencing hearings.

In January, authorities arrested two dozen people following a monthslong drug and gun trafficking sting, AJC.com previously reported. The joint operation conducted by the Department of Justice, FBI and local police netted nearly $1 million worth of narcotics, more than $84,000 in cash and 43 firearms — including eight assault rifles, authorities said at the time.

RELATED: 2 dozen charged in drug, gun trafficking bust in Athens

Two suspected Athens drug dealers charged in that sting, 33-year-old Rickshun Willingham and 20-year-old Maquila Jones, recently pleaded guilty. Jones, who pleaded to one count of distributing crack cocaine, could face anywhere from five to 40 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Credit: Athens-Clarke County Police Department

Credit: Athens-Clarke County Police Department

Willingham pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess more than 100 grams of heroin, more than 280 grams of cocaine and more than 50 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, authorities said. He faces a minimum of 10 years in prison, but could end up spending the rest of his life behind bars on the federal charges.

A second drug sting resulted in the indictments of nearly 70 people last month. Dubbed “Operation Wu Block,” the 24-month federal investigation led to the seizure of more than 58 kilograms of methamphetamine, more than two kilograms of heroin, 31 guns and $56,000, prosecutors said.

MORE: 68 indicted on federal charges in drug trafficking investigation

Two of the suspects charged in that operation, 45-year-old Mechelle Morris and 38-year-old Justin Clouse, pleaded guilty to meth distribution charges, authorities said. Both face anywhere from 10 years in prison to life without parole. Their mugs were not available.

“Our office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to crack down on high-level drug cases and remove weapons from the hands of convicted felons,” U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler said in a news release. “It is a priority of this office to decrease the illegal drug trade and violent crime across our district.”

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