Money helped lure criminals

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The investigators at Colur Tyme Tattooz & Thingz bought things others wouldn't, and some say that was the problem.

Police working with Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength deny they created a market for illegal weapons by offering more than their street worth.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Police working with Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength deny they created a market for illegal weapons by offering more than their street worth.

Since the arrests of more than 100 people on narcotics, weapons and other charges, those representing the suspects think Operation Augusta Ink might have helped to fuel a market for illegal guns in south Augusta.

Attorney Victor Hawk said he believes the amount of money the Richmond County Sheriff's Office offered tempted many to make a quick buck. Two of Mr. Hawk's clients, Marcus Salmond and James Bartell Smiley, have pleaded guilty in federal court.

Mr. Hawk said he believes it's likely many arrested were criminals, but he knows many were also poor individuals who were drawn to the store because the money was too good to pass up.

"You go into a poor neighborhood and you offer two or three times what the street value of a gun is, you're going to get a lot of people you're not looking for," Mr. Hawk said.

Sheriff's office statistics show there were 181 more reported gun thefts during the 16 months Operation Augusta Ink was under way than in a similar 16-month period in 2005-06.

Police deny that they created a market for the weapons by paying more than street prices. Lt. Scott Peebles said the investigators were careful to learn as much about who they were making a sale with before they came in the store. They based the price on the seller and if they knew whether the weapons had been used in a crime.

He used the example of a young person attempting to sell his grandmother's gun.

"We're going to lowball you," Lt. Peebles said. "We don't want that gun. We know it hadn't been used in anything. We might look at it and get the serial number and you're out of there. But if it's somebody who's a gang member who we know has stolen the gun or used the gun, we definitely don't want them walking out the door with a gun because these are bad people. Then we would try and work a little more."

He contends that investigators targeted individuals who were breaking into gun stores and burglarizing homes for weapons before the operation began.

Wright McLeod said gun sales are the least of his client's worries. He represents Jacob Plowright, who faces charges stemming from the shooting of a convenience store clerk and an armed robbery, in addition to selling firearms.

Even if it was as pressing a worry, Mr. McLeod said, entrapment can be a difficult case for defense attorneys to make.

"The fact that they pay you more money than it's worth, it has no bearing," he said. "You sell stolen merchandise, you're guilty, regardless of whether they throw a ton of money at you."

Several messages left for attorneys representing suspects labeled as "high-ranking gang members" during the operation were not returned.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or


Total number of arrests (federal and state): 105 targets

Reported Gun Thefts in Richmond County:

2007 518
2006 524
2005 448
2004 403
2003 432

Guns stolen during the Augusta Ink Operation (July 2006 to Nov. 15, 2007): 689 guns stolen

Compared to the same amount of time the previous year:

July 2005 to November 2006: 508 guns stolen

Source: Richmond County sheriff's office

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mdb67 02/24/08 - 11:55 am
Being poor doesnt give you

Being poor doesnt give you the right to break the law. There are many jobs in Augusta; a person has to be willing to work in order to find a job. For the teenagers arrested....charge the parents for neglect. Neglect for failing their children and sad to say our future!! Now here is an awsome thought...lets send all of the adults to prisons 800 miles from Augusta!!

CoastalDawg 02/24/08 - 01:17 pm
Oh here we go now; I was

Oh here we go now; I was wondering how long it would be before some enterprising attorney would blame the POLICE instead of his clients for their having broken the law. Over and over and over there are attorneys who KNOW that their clients are criminals, yet will be everything in their power to get them off. I say let those same clients move into the homes of those attorneys for a while and see how "straight" they are; the same goes for judges who let these kind of criminals off the hook with a slap on the wrist. When that happens and the criminals repeat, the judges who let them off in the first place should be in the same cell in jail.

fd1962 02/24/08 - 03:25 pm
It's not unusual to

It's not unusual to anticipate some element of police abuse in an operation like this. Selective law enforcement is no stranger to our society. However, its existence should only be a mitigating factor for consideration by the judge at the sentencing stage - not be fatal to the charges in their totality. The goal of getting some dangerous people and weapons off the streets for a time has been accomplished. On balance, quite a success.

MartinezWest Augusta
MartinezWest Augusta 02/24/08 - 03:36 pm
The guns were taken from

The guns were taken from columbia county. And sold on tobacco rd by street level dealers. But the evans chronicle would never mention that. ONly try to bash south augusta

SargentMidTown 02/24/08 - 04:56 pm
The only way to keep trash

The only way to keep trash out of a given neighborhood is to form a strong neighborhood association. The Summervill neighborhood is a perfect example of success. Solidarity is the most important ingredient in a quality neighborhood. Strive to make things better instead of going along with the riff raff trash.

SargentMidTown 02/24/08 - 05:28 pm
Senate Bill 268 if passed

Senate Bill 268 if passed would make section 8 and welfare recipients have mandatory drug tests. By: Senators Seabaugh of the 28th and Rogers of the 21st Help make this into law.

simplelesson 02/24/08 - 05:58 pm
This was a plain and simple

This was a plain and simple RCPD gun buy back program, the more crimes committed with the weapon the greater the value. Can charges be filed against the criminals defending the gansters, maybe drug testing, sanity checks, etc...? I know these criminals take oaths to defend these folks but how do they sleep at night?

FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 08:16 pm
Whatever it takes. Works for

Whatever it takes. Works for me.

travelp 02/24/08 - 09:00 pm
Hate to break it to you but

Hate to break it to you but all the guns didn't come from columbia county. Nice try jonnneee.

adam 02/25/08 - 04:13 am
Welfare has almost completely

Welfare has almost completely ruined this once proud nation.I do believe we are headed for societal breakdown.

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