Llano County meth ring busted through law enforcement cooperation




By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

On Monday, May 14, Kingsland resident Shaun Daughtry — fed up with the presence of methamphetamine dealers and users in his neighborhood off Lover's Laner — put up a sign on his property declaring the area to be a “meth-free zone.”

Daughtry told The Highlander he was worried about children who lived in the area coming in contact with drug use as well as a lack of sanitary conditions at a trailer home in the area that was a reputed manufacturing lab for methamphetamine.

Daughtry said he witnessed trash and human feces being burned outside one home and was horrified to think children might be exposed to disease due to the filfth. He was hopeful local law enforcement could do something to get rid of the drug dealers and users in Llano County.

Ten days later, Daughtry's prayers were answered when deputies from the Llano County Sheriff's office; Drug Enforcement Agency agents from Austin, San Antonio and Houston; Llano County District Attorney's office; Department of Public Safety troopers; National Guard intelligence analysts; and Texas Rangers joined forces to shut down a large methamphetamine trafficking ring in Llano and Burnet counties, concluding a seven-month joint investigation.

The roundup began at 5:30 a.m. May 24. By noon, officials had arrested 20 suspects on warrants issued from sealed indictments for delivery or possession of a controlled substance and related charges in Llano, Kingsland and parts of Burnet County.

Of those arrested, eight were already in custody in Llano County, Burnet County or in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for other charges. Thirty nine persons suspected of trafficking methamphetamine have been arrested during the course of the investigation.

Suspects arrested include:

* Justin Haile, 38.

* James Hoffman, 45.

* Lani Cooper, 39.

* Johnny Bailey, 43.

* Tina Smith, 39.

* Coty Stacy, 38.

* Harlan McLeod, 35.

* Marion Marc Hanson, 46.

* Leslie Courtney, 46.

* Patricia Larose Long, 36.

* Candice Rachel Woody, 36.

* Thomas Preston Davis, 34.

Suspects that were already in jail on other charges:

* Jeremy Elmer Helterbran, 37 (Llano Jail).

* Pennie Joanna Hodge, 29 (Llano Jail).

* Coquetta Elaine Morgan, 27 (Llano Jail).

* Kalley Jo Odom, 36 (Llano Jail).

* Robert Robinson, 62 (Llano Jail).

* Tiffany House, 41 (Burnet Jail).

* Ashley Varlade-Weyland, 34 (TDCJ).

* Chance Adrian Adverse Braziel, 21 (Llano Jail).

Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn said officials are still looking for seven suspects with outstanding warrants or indictments and many of those indicted have multiple charges pending against them.

District Attorney Wiley “Sonny” McAfee praised what he called an “unprecedented level of cooperation” between agencies, which led to a successful roundup.

DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the San Antonio District, Dante Sorianello, was on hand for Thursday’s operation. Also present was the Resident Agent in Charge of the ten-county Austin office, Scott Smith. Bill Blackburn and Chief Deputy John Neff directed personnel of the Sheriff’s Office, while McAfee, First Assistant District Attorney Perry Thomas, and Chief Investigator Jack Schumacher were on hand to assist with any legal matters that arose during the bust.

“Resident Agent Scott Smith met with the District Attorney’s office several months ago to discuss cooperative efforts that could reduce illegal drug trafficking throughout the district,” said McAfee, “and my first assistant Perry Thomas and Chief Investigator Jack Schumacher coordinated efforts with Lt. Brad Evans of the Llano County Sheriff’s office. DEA supplied personnel and resources to launch an extensive investigation into the trafficking network, which culminated in the arrests to this point.

“This network of traffickers brought drugs into our communities, distributed drugs here, and also used our roadways as transit corridors for distribution to purchasers in surrounding counties,” McAfee said. “Arresting the particular defendants charged with delivery of methamphetamine in this case will significantly degrade that network and have a major impact on illegal trafficking throughout the district and surrounding areas as well.

“This level of cooperation between local authorities and federal law enforcement is the most effective way to achieve success in battling illegal trafficking,” McAfee added. “This would not have been possible without the work of Scott Smith and support of Dante Sorianello of the DEA, as well as the efforts of Sheriff Blackburn’s office.”

McAfee added the investigation is still ongoing and that intelligence and evidence acquired during this phase of the operation could lead to additional arrests and charges in the future.

“We had people calling us and telling us about areas where there was meth traffic and we couldn't say too much at the time because we already had an active investigation working, but now hopefully they can see we were definitely working on it,” McAfee said.

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