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Undercover storefront operations prove successful for law enforcement in Richmond County, Georgia

Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 8:49 PM
Last updated 8:52 PM
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Storefronts, like the one used in Augusta’s latest sting operation, are favorite tools used by law enforcement to catch criminals.

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Cheap Cigarettes II, located on Peach Orchard Road, was used by police for a seven-month undercover burglary operation dubbed Operation Smoke Screen. As of Tuesday, the operation had yielded 77 arrests.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Cheap Cigarettes II, located on Peach Orchard Road, was used by police for a seven-month undercover burglary operation dubbed Operation Smoke Screen. As of Tuesday, the operation had yielded 77 arrests.

During Operation Smoke Screen, investigators located an illegal pawn shop on Peach Orchard Road and convinced the owner of Cheap Cigarettes II to “flip,” or cooperate with them. After placing high definition cameras at the store and parking lot and inserting an undercover agent, the stolen property started coming to them.

A similar sting in 2007 in which the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office set up a Tobacco Road business called Colur Tyme Tattoo Parlor yielded 400 firearms seized and more than 130 people arrested.

Currently, there are six or seven storefront operations across the state, with most of those between Augusta and Savannah, said Special Agent in Charge Scott Sweetow of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who teamed up with the sheriff’s office for Smoke Screen.

A big advantage of a undercover store operation is that the amount of incriminating evidence ends up saving the government a lot of money on court fees. If police have digital pictures of suspects’ faces, they are more likely to plead guilty and skip the trial process altogether.

ATF Regional Agent in Charge George Belsky said that in the most recent operations in his area, which includes Augusta, 100 percent of those arrested pleaded guilty.

“It saves everyone a lot of time and money,” he said.

The people that bring in the weapons come from all backgrounds. Some are women and juveniles, Sweetow said.

“We are taking guns that would be used in crimes off the streets,” he said, adding that Smoke Screen was the largest he’d seen in a while, yielding 77 arrests by Tuesday. A recent sting in Atlanta ended in about 50 arrests.

The products moved so quickly in Smoke Screen that in one case, 30 minutes after a gun was stolen from a vehicle it showed up at the store.

“Most of these guns are not purchased at a retail store,” Sweetow said. “They are stolen and then find their way all over the state.”

In fact, one of the guns officers bought during the operation was from a suspect from another storefront in another part of the state.

An untraceable gun, one that has had the serial number removed for example, can be worth a lot of money, he said.

Each undercover storefront has a lifespan, Sweetow said. There gets to be a point where the agents have to go in and arrest people and get them off the street.

“You can’t let them go forever,” he said.

The success of Smoke Screen was not a surprise to Sheriff Ronnie Strength.

“What we learned is if we start an operation, chances are 100 percent the criminals will come to us,” he said at Tuesday’s announcment of the operation.


Names released of those arrested in Operation Smoke Screen:

Derrian Brown

Detrevious Pace

Dekabien Swint

Rodriguez Bynyon

Derrick Williams

Akeem Wiggins

Craig Hambrick

Jerry Mozone

Nico Warthaw

Carl Collins

Shamika Gilbert

Dion Lawerence

Marcus Scott

Dwyane Anderson

Brandon Jackson

Leroy Bunyan

Raheem Moss

Marvin Major

Michael Poling

Miguel Heredia

Robert Johnson

Charles Andrews

Hubert Lipscomb

Dennis Jordan

Carnesha Wilson

Asya Neely

Quame Collins

Darius Whaley

Darrel Patterson

Grady West

Rashad Ray

Steve Mikel

Keyuana Adams

Donlee Williams

Gary Henderson

Thomas HeAtley

Dariuss Redd

Bryant Miller

Tavares Harmon

Deandre Foreman

Chastity Loving

Antonio Jones

Ephraim Jackson

Terrence Merriweather

Angus Myricks

Eric Wiley

Darnell Brown

Hubert Garrett

James Wilson

Mercedes Hyman

Chivilious Moore

Jamar Thomas

Sasha Taylor

William Harmon

Deandre Jackson

Gregory Douse

Sharon Myricks

Renarldo Butler

Shirley Haynes

Larry Williams

Lemuel Smith

Brandon Dunn

Angelo Pringle

Curtis President

Joshua Gaither

6 juveniles

Comments (8) Add comment
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TParty 02/29/12 - 10:03 pm
That's some good police work.

That's some good police work. Well done.

Martinez 03/01/12 - 03:25 am
Let's hope those guilty pleas

Let's hope those guilty pleas lead to meaningful punishment within the judicial system rather then some bargain for a slap on the wrist. What's the point in spending countless dollars on street level operations if our judiciary doesn't provide reasonable consequences for those arrested as a result. It might be interesting to see a follow-up on this story a few months from now with the charges and sentence received for each name above.

kissofdeath 03/01/12 - 06:56 am
This look bias and smell

This look bias and smell fishy. Why're they keep targeting South Augusta mostly blacks, criminal activity transpire in West Augusta?

seenitB4 03/01/12 - 07:04 am

WAY TO GO RICHMOND COUNTY.....keep up the good work..

kiss maybe that's where the crime is ....duh...

We read about it EVERY week...finally some crooks are caught.

If I still lived in South Augusta I would be THANKING them for doing a great job & possibly saving my life-home.

Dixieman 03/01/12 - 11:10 am


jross1981 03/01/12 - 11:12 am
All of my firearms were

All of my firearms were stolen from my house last May. Hopefully some of them will turn up!

jross1981 03/01/12 - 11:15 am
Kissofdeath: Yeah it's biased

Kissofdeath: Yeah it's biased WHEN PEOPLE FREELY COME INTO THE STORE WITH STOLEN GUNS. Nobody forced them to go into the store.

scratchthesurface 03/01/12 - 11:20 am
I hope they get 20-30 years

I hope they get 20-30 years in jail for the pain and suffering they put on innocent, hard working people. They're nothing but a bunch of "Moochers!". So YES, send them to jail for 50 years, that's plenty enough time for them to lift weights and convert to islam.

mikeelliott 03/01/12 - 02:01 pm
Thanks guys. You don't get

Thanks guys. You don't get the appreciation nor the pay you deserve.

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