for immediate release
February 21, 2002

N E W S   R E L E A S E

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have concluded a lengthy investigation into a major smuggling operation. In the last nine months, nine defendants have been arrested in Okaloosa County, plus three in Texas. The last two arrests were made this week.

Investigators believe the group had been averaging approximately 300 pounds of marijuana per month brought into Okaloosa County.

The investigation lasted almost one year, during which time agents seized 172 pounds of marijuana, plus two ounces of cocaine. The majority of the illegal drugs were found when a search warrant was executed at a residence on 32nd Street in Niceville in August, 2001.

The local distributors received marijuana on a regular basis from suppliers in Houston and San Antonio, who had smuggled the drug from Mexico. Much of the Mexican marijuana had been brought across the border hidden inside the tires of automobiles and light trucks, then repackaged for transport in different vehicles to Okaloosa County. Approximately 40 pounds of marijuana with a street value of at least $40,000 could be concealed inside one passenger car tire. Photographs of the smuggled marijuana can be seen at www.sheriff-okaloosa.org.

The majority of the defendants are facing prosecution on Federal Charges; four of the 12 are charged only at the State level.

-30-

for more information contact Rick Hord, Public Information Officer

(850) 651-7420

Defendants arrested in the Marijuana distribution investigation:

Federal charges of "Conspiracy to Possess with intent to Distribute Marijuana:"

Frankie Stephen Nickelson, Jr., age 27 (9-6-74)
Niceville, Fl
arrested 2-12-2002

Jason Matthew Ward, age 25 (11-30-76)
Converse, Texas
arrested 1-15-2002

Steven Rivera, age 29 (12-11-72)
San Antonio, Texas
arrested 1-14-2002

Israel Salvador Vargas, age 26 (2-28-75)
San Antonio, Texas
arrested 2-12-2002

Margaret Elizondo Castro, age 40 (9-16-61)
San Antonio, Texas
arrested 2-6-2002

Jason Travis Russell, age 21 (4-26-80)
Houston, Texas
arrested 8-25-2001

Cody James Stewart, age 23 (12-12-78)
Cypress, Texas
arrested 8-25-2001

James Belton Marrs III, age 22 (10-10-79)
Cypress, Texas

Defendants arrested in the Marijuana distribution investigation:

State charges:

Brian Paul Washburn, age 31 (11-17-70)
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
arrested 5-24-2001: Trafficking in Cocaine

Johnnie Ray Spain, age 25 (11-30-76)
Niceville, Florida
arrested 2-19-2002: Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute

David Lord, age 31 (10-16-70)
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
arrested 10-29-2001 Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute
& Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute

Eric Thane McPherson, age 34 (1-17-68)
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
arrested 2-19-2002: Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute


BACK HOME

BACK TO PRESS RELEASES