Sting put officers at center of gangs

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Kendall Brown was living a double life.

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Sgt. Blaise Dresser of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office points out some of the graffiti that was left on the walls inside Colur Tyme. The parlor was used by undercover agents to track down gang member suspects.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Sgt. Blaise Dresser of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office points out some of the graffiti that was left on the walls inside Colur Tyme. The parlor was used by undercover agents to track down gang member suspects.

The fast-talking Richmond County sheriff's investigator had recently moved his wife and daughter to Augusta from Savannah, and within a few months he was looking and acting differently. He would leave home late at night with little or no explanation, only to return hours later smelling of marijuana and cheap beer.

His wife knew he was working on something big. Investigator Brown had been undercover before. When they arrived in Augusta, he didn't say much about his work, then the stress began to build.

It wasn't until mid-November, as they gathered for a news conference, that the team of investigators who orchestrated the most successful undercover operation in Richmond County history realized the extent of their work.

Operation Augusta Ink turned out to be the second-largest storefront weapon seizure in the history of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. At last count, 105 men, women and juveniles have been arrested on drug, theft and firearm charges stemming from Colur Tyme Tattooz & Things, the Tobacco Road parlor that served as a black market bazaar for local gangs.

In the beginning

In the spring of 2006, investigators approached a tattoo artist nicknamed Lil' John, whose real name is being withheld by authorities to protect his identity, about providing information about gang members.

Police knew Lil' John was running an illegal tattoo parlor out of his home and had made a name for himself by tattooing members of south Augusta gangs such as O-DUB and Georgia Deadly Boys. Officers saw Lil' John as a way into the world of Augusta's gangs and offered him money and protection in return for his help. Police had been watching the gang problem grow in Augusta for years and reached a point where they felt the need to be more proactive, according to Lt. Scott Peebles.

Within a month, members of the department, including Lt. Peebles, Maj. Ken Autry and Capt. Jack Francisco, started looking for a rental property and those willing to go undercover to staff it. From the beginning, only a handful of people knew Colur Tyme peddled more than just tattoos and Phillie blunt cigars.

"They were told you don't talk about this with anyone because not only will you be fired, but we can, we will, prosecute you," Lt. Peebles said. "That's how serious we took it, and I think that's how serious they took it."

Soon, they set about creating two operations: one a legitimate tattoo parlor with the motto "We buy things others won't," the other a system of networks within local gangs that enabled them to buy those "things," namely stolen guns and drugs.

Daily operation

Augusta Ink began with Lil' John giving tattoos and forwarding his criminal contacts to Chris, a large, bearded officer who would not give his last name. Chris' task was legitimizing the business. He paid the bills and handled the day-to-day operation of the shop while negotiating drug and weapon sales.

It was Investigator Brown, who went by the nickname "Yardie," short for Yardbird, who acted as the tough guy. With eight years of service in the U.S. Army Special Operations and an early life on the streets of Queens, coupled with a sawed-off shotgun, Investigator Brown instilled a sense of fear and respect into everyone who entered the shop.

"(They thought) that I was crazy -- that some of the ATF guys were crazy," he said. "You know, he (Chris) was always quiet, so they thought he was crazy. They just wouldn't come in and start no trouble."

That fear made Colur Tyme neutral ground to gangs -- a sanctuary. Rival gang members would shoot each other in the streets, but in the tattoo parlor all they fired off were dirty looks, according to Dan Carrier, who worked with Sgt. Blaise Dresser behind the scenes to identify every suspect that made a sale.

"They seemed to realize that if they did do something up there, the money would run out," Investigator Carrier said. "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."

Suspects were told the weapons they sold were headed to New York. Investigator Brown maintained that he made regular trips to New York City to unload Augusta's stolen guns. In reality, the weapons made a much shorter trip to the ATF crime lab in Savannah.

The risks

With thousands of dollars in cash and weapons entering the store, being robbed was a very real fear. It could not only mean injury or death for the undercover officers, but also the end of the operation. If it happened, investigators were told to cooperate, hand over their money and report the crime like any other business owner.

A gunman robbed Taylor's Banquet, a salon and banquet hall that shared a parking lot with Colur Tyme, in November 2006. Just minutes after the holdup, the gunman and his three accomplices came into Colur Tyme. Their faces were captured on several of the cameras wired throughout the building, but to use the images to arrest the suspects would have meant the end of Augusta Ink.

"The deputy and the business owner came next door, and I told them what I'd seen," Chris said. "I told them what kind of vehicle (the suspects) had, because it was parked right in front of the shop. They had no idea. They treated me like I was a business."

Three teenagers involved in the robbery were arrested that night without the Augusta Ink tapes. The fourth, a 16-year-old Cross Creek High School student, was picked up by police two months later.

The team learned from the experience. They brought in extra help, both from their department and the ATF. Months later, they would rely on that help when dealing with three of their top targets: Jacob Plowright, Nathaniel Jones and Raphael Milligan.

It was late New Year's Day 2007 when Paul Patel was working in the freezer of his store, Richmond Hill Market. His wife, Binal, was at the counter when two men, later identified as Mr. Plowright and Mr. Jones, pointed handguns at her and demanded cash. Hearing the commotion, Mr. Patel rushed from the back of the store to aid his wife.

Startled, the suspects fired their guns, striking Mr. Patel in the left leg and the abdomen. Severely injured, Mr. Patel was rushed to Medical College of Georgia Hospital for treatment and survived.

Investigators said that before the shooting, they had no knowledge of the group. But they say that changed a day later when Mr. Plowright sold a 9 mm handgun to an undercover officer. ATF ballistics tests connected the gun to the shooting of Mr. Patel, and the undercover investigators found themselves in another difficult situation.

"At a point when we realized everything they were involved in," Lt. Peebles said, they thought, "OK, how are we going to arrest them and keep them in jail without using anything from the operations as evidence, because once we do that it exposes the operation?"

The violence continued. A little more than a month later, a bouncer at Club Dreams on Washington Road was shot twice in the chest. A week after that, police say, Mr. Plowright appeared in Colur Tyme again -- this time accompanied by Mr. Jones. For $240, they sold police a .40-caliber handgun that ballistics tests later matched to the club shooting. By then, police had connected Mr. Plowright and Mr. Milligan to the robbery of the Video Warehouse on Tobacco Road. Mr. Plowright was also accused of stealing a billfold from a 16-year-old Sonic employee in October 2006.

In late April, Mr. Jones was arrested and charged with the shooting at Club Dreams. Two weeks later, Investigator Carrier and Investigator Paul Godden said, they followed Mr. Plowright, who was driving a stolen car, from Colur Tyme and tried to do a traffic stop. He rammed the investigators with his car, then led them on a half-mile chase to the entrance of the Raintree subdivision before he was captured. After his arrest, a stolen Colt .45 pistol was found beneath the car seat.

Because he rammed the investigators' vehicle, police said they were able to charge him with aggravated assault on a police officer, ensuring that he would remain in jail until trial, and they managed to keep Augusta Ink quiet for the time being

"He basically handed us 'no bond' on a silver platter," Lt. Peebles said.

Working sources

Essential to the success of Augusta Ink were the close bonds the undercover investigators built with their targets, according to police. Suspects vented to their business associates, who happened to work in the Richmond County sheriff's office.

"That was the best part of the whole entire thing," Sgt. Dresser said. "Everyone would come up talking about, 'We got a snitch in our midst.' When it was all over, they went 'God, y'all are the snitches.' "

When he wasn't carrying his sawed-off shotgun, Investigator Brown was often seen wielding a wooden boat paddle wrapped with black tape. If the shotgun was used to instill fear, the paddle built friendship. Only the "top customers," those described as "big-time gang members" who sold numerous weapons, were allowed to tag, or write, on the paddle. All the rest were relegated to scrawling the names of their gangs and cliques on the store's white walls.

It was just a tool, but an effective one that let those entering Colur Tyme feel at ease. An area of the parlor called "the mall" served as a lounge for the customers, and after making deals, many of those who were later arrested would sit with Chris and Investigator Brown, do drugs and talk.

"They would just sit for hours at a time, smoke as many blunts as their system could handle, and we would just jump into conversations with them," Investigator Brown said. "The intel was just phenomenal."

Another way police said they were able to build that trust was through Lil' John, who knew many of the gang members.

"To a lot of them, they came and they saw us as new faces -- a white guy, a black guy and a couple of ATF guys -- they were unsure about it," Investigator Brown said. "But they saw Lil' John. They knew Lil' John from the neighborhood. He tatted them or their friends. He tattooed their fathers."

Lil' John no longer lives in the area. Lt. Peebles refuses to provide more information on the man he calls a "hero."

It wasn't until hundreds of local, state and federal authorities fanned out to make arrests across Richmond County in November that many of the targets discovered with whom they had been spending time.

"That's how much of a friendship it is, so when it was all over and we were arresting them, a lot of these guys were hurt," Investigator Brown said. "I mean, they were looking at me and they were borderline tears, because they felt such a connection with us at the shop because we weren't cops. It just took me time, that's all."

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (42) Add comment
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WhiskyDick
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WhiskyDick 02/24/08 - 06:24 am
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Hats off to these brave folks

Hats off to these brave folks - may God bless them!

patriciathomas
44
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patriciathomas 02/24/08 - 07:12 am
0
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I hate that Augusta has

I hate that Augusta has "advanced" to the point of needing this type of operation, but I'm very glad these people were willing and able to pull it off so successfully. My thanks to them for a dangerous job well done.

LouLou
6
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LouLou 02/24/08 - 07:25 am
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I agree with WhiskeyDick

I agree with WhiskeyDick 100000000%

justputtin
1810
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justputtin 02/24/08 - 08:08 am
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"Advanced"?????? Patricia,

"Advanced"?????? Patricia, you try too hard. Augusta had one of the highest murder per capita rates in the country even back in the 60's and 70's. Where have you been?????? Augusta's been this way for years. Don't get me wrong, I love Augusta, lived here my entire life, and will die here. We're fortunate to have a police force and individual heroes that were in the middle of this operation. Well done! And I too agree with WhiskyDick!

Ole School
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Ole School 02/24/08 - 09:17 am
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Yes Sandbagger , you are

Yes Sandbagger , you are right , I too have been here ever since General Freight was just a PRIVATE ! My Father was on the Augusta City Police for Years and I remember living through some rough times. but as for the law enforcement involved in the arrests , while I do thank them , I know that they need no thanks , when they made the arrests without firing a shot they FELT GOOD about their work !..but Officer`s we need ya ! and Thanks !

Captain Awesome
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Captain Awesome 02/24/08 - 09:36 am
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This kind of thing would make

This kind of thing would make a great book or movie.

justus4
124
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justus4 02/24/08 - 09:50 am
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This guy in the article is
Unpublished

This guy in the article is being used. His efforts will not harm the drug trade. Why? He & law enforcement are deliberately looking in the wrong areas. They & federal govt. should be focusing on the point of entry into the country. THATS how to stop the shipping and transport of illegal drugs, and not creating a lasting prison population, which is what this guy is doing. And if a minority, watch out being undercover. In N.Y. recently, a minority off-duty officer was shot & killed by three white officers. They say,"we thought he was a bad guy." Same 'ol tired line by killers in blue. Seems that black officers have to worry more about their trigger-happy buddy cop than actual dealers.

Just me 2
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Just me 2 02/24/08 - 10:02 am
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Why are the officials and

Why are the officials and teams of drug dogs not stationed at the shipyards where the drugs come into the country? I do realize this would not stop all because of the private owned planes but it would stop a MAJOR portion of it!!!

tdp
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tdp 02/24/08 - 10:17 am
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Justus4....I expect idiotic

Justus4....I expect idiotic comments from you, and once again, you didn't dissapoint. What's the problem? Some of your buddies get arrested?

Craig Spinks
819
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Craig Spinks 02/24/08 - 11:28 am
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Supply follows demand. What

Supply follows demand. What can we do to diminish demand for illegal drugs and for the illicit use of legal ones? What can we do to forestall the recruitment of new druggies? Most importantly, of those things we can do, what will we do?

mdb67
9
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mdb67 02/24/08 - 11:32 am
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Hats off to all that put

Hats off to all that put these folks away....I say we work a deal with Texas or Mexico and send them to prisons down there!!

Edward B. Turner
69
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Edward B. Turner 02/24/08 - 11:36 am
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A good story and a

A good story and a well-written one too. Great job by the police, and the info learned from the sting will help immeasurably in dealing with these low life gangs. Too bad justus crosses thought patterns TWICE in his rant.....sure, we as a country have long lost the war on drugs, but how to handle that is a different story completely. Kudos to everyone involved in the sting and I look forward to see the details of their punishment to set an example for other gangs.

Craig Spinks
819
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Craig Spinks 02/24/08 - 11:37 am
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The bravery of the RCSO and

The bravery of the RCSO and other law enforcement personnel involved in this sting warrant our admiration. But these courageous folks can't reduce gang violence on their own. The reduction of gang violence and other criminality will require the active assistance of a vigilant citizenry. We need more folks like Mr. Sammie Sias, who's not going to be intimidated by a bunch of knuckleheads, to get the job done.

Riverman1
114600
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Riverman1 02/24/08 - 11:39 am
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To get slightly off topic,

To get slightly off topic, legalize drugs and you take away the incentive for gangs. The users steal to get enough to pay for drugs that cost a fortune because they are illegal. Prisons are overfilled with those in jail for drug offenses. Use a fraction of the money spent on law enforcement for education and you will do far more to decrease drug usage and crime than thousands of sting operations.

CoastalDawg
125
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CoastalDawg 02/24/08 - 01:04 pm
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LEGALIZE DRUGS? Surely you

LEGALIZE DRUGS? Surely you jest! Can you imagine how our country should be if drugs were legalized? What an absolutely insane idea - I guess this is part of the "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" theory. Right now our congress is spending time and money, unconstitutionally in my opinion, in hearings about drug use and the country is up in arms because some of our athletic "role model heroes" have been implicated and their various records tainted by the possible use of drugs. So legalizing that will solve all our problems? Exactly what type of "education" do you propose? Even LEGAL drugs are a problem; just look at the recent deaths of some talented young actors, dead because of the abuse of legal drugs. So is the world better off because they were able to get "legal" drugs and use them wrongly? That idea makes as much sense as placing a fox as the guardian of a house full of chickens.. As for cutting off the supply of drugs at ports, that is already being done on a regular basis, at least in the port of Savannah if nowhere else. There is no simple answer, unfortunately what these officers did is a requirement in today's society. God's blessings on them and their families

Lou Stewall
473
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Lou Stewall 02/24/08 - 02:51 pm
0
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I agree with Riverman that

I agree with Riverman that drugs should be legalized. "Education" means treatment. Drug dealers have to use weapons to protect their business because you certainly can't call the cops when your merchandise gets stolen. Just imagine the revenue from taxes, and the savings on enforcement, courts and prisons. Prohibition didn't work and the War on Drugs is a complete failure. Even the D.A.R.E. program caused MORE students to try drugs.

FallingLeaves
31
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FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 03:14 pm
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I agree with Dr. Bukk and

I agree with Dr. Bukk and Riverman1. So does my father, who was a drug counselor in the prison system after earning a degree on the GI Bill. He retired from the military - Green Beret, Special Forces, Signal, Master Sgt., Drug Counselor, yet guess what he considered his most dangerous and difficult job? Substitute teaching at Glenn Hills High School in the 70's. If he says the drugs that are presently illegal should be legalized, I am most assuredly going to give his opinion great weight. I know the transition will be a nightmare on many levels, but something has to change. What is going on right now is obviously not working.

MartinezWest Augusta
2
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MartinezWest Augusta 02/24/08 - 03:36 pm
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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
8
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SargentMidTown 02/24/08 - 04:55 pm
0
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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.
www.hongkongaugustaga.org

SargentMidTown
8
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SargentMidTown 02/24/08 - 05:26 pm
0
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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.
www.hongkongaugustaga.org

Phish
0
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Phish 02/24/08 - 05:36 pm
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The only differences between

The only differences between any "street drug" you can name I.E. pot,crack, meth, ecstacy, so on and any alcohol you can name Budweiser Jack daniels etc or cigarettes-nicotine is a addictive drug by the way- Is the alcohol and cigarettes are legal and TAXED and accepted by society!!! Two things 1) You get caught operating a motor vehicle under the influence of anything YOU GO TO JAIL!! 2) Do not come into the workplace under the influence of these drugs. We need to let corporate America handle some of the burden of this countries problems such as this one and imigration and taxation www.mikehuckabee.com

dani
13
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dani 02/24/08 - 05:46 pm
0
0
I don't think people steal or

I don't think people steal or sell their bodies for alcohol and cigarettes as they do for drugs. That's just my opinion and the people wanting to legalize drugs probably think that stealing and selling your body is okay too.

Riverman1
114600
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Riverman1 02/24/08 - 06:37 pm
0
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The point is that laws

The point is that laws against drugs are not working. If you really want to decrease drug use and crime, please consider taking money from law enforcement and placing it in education and treatment programs. It will work and will only cost a fraction of what law enforcement and prisons demand. Have an open mind and think about it. No one here is for drug use.

FallingLeaves
31
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FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 06:44 pm
0
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Dani. I believe it is not

Dani. I believe it is not okay to steal or sell your body for ANYTHING. There goes your theory about people that want to legalize drugs. You know I think a lot of you and your postings dani, but there ARE women that sit on barstools and demean themselves for free alcohol and cigarettes, sometimes as far as prostitution, depending on the extent of their addiction and contents of their purse. I think you have just momentarily forgotten that. I wish it wasn't so, but it is. And that is not okay either. But alcoholics and cigarette smokers can admit their addictions and get help for them, because these addictions are not illegal. Now if the person, male or female, is addicted to sex, it could be a little more dicey to admit that, but they can still get help on their own initiative, usually without risking jail time. Illegal substance abuse problems are harder to address because people don't want to admit that they are doing something illegal because of the possible or likely legal problems that could ensue. No easy answers. I just hope all of us can make a positive difference in our own ways. Let's keep brainstorming.

FallingLeaves
31
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FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 06:50 pm
0
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Riverman1 Education and

Riverman1 Education and treatment programs are in place and could be increased but I don't think we need to take money away from law enforcement any time soon. Law enforcement needs to address other concerns when relief comes in the area of narcotics, which would take quite awhile, there are so many things to address before that happens. Law enforcement is stretched thin now, understaffed and underpaid, relieving drug issues from their list of concerns would allow them to attend to other things on the back burner like cold murder cases.

FallingLeaves
31
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FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 06:56 pm
0
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justus4, keep writing. I

justus4, keep writing. I love reading between the lines.

jsprings
0
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jsprings 02/24/08 - 07:49 pm
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first off, for everyone who

first off, for everyone who has a plan to stop the flow of drugs into THIS country, wake up. drugs are here and u cant stop it the government has miserably failed at getting drugs off the streets...# of drugs taken off the streets...maybe 1...# of new drugs put on the streets in the last 10 years...about a hundred. good ol supply and demand...as long as this countries ensationable hunger for drugs keeps growing...then the dealers are gonna keep supplying...as far as op. aug ink...what a crock of crap...i mean im glad it helped solve a few crimes...got a few criminals off the streets...but to call these guys high level gang leaders or to even call these dumbasses gangs is a laugh...they got a bunch of petty street dealers and some car thieves...the real threats are still out here...still business as usual...and crime has dropped about .08%...RCPD...ATF...come on yall can do better than that...dont glamorize this like you put a dent in Augustas crime or drug problem.

FallingLeaves
31
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FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 07:54 pm
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jsprings tell us more. :-)

jsprings tell us more. :-)

FallingLeaves
31
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FallingLeaves 02/24/08 - 07:59 pm
0
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Hey, what's the drug tip

Hey, what's the drug tip Hotline? Is it still 706-828-DRUG? Get the right number and go to an untraceable phone and tell them what you know. Anonymously.

jsprings
0
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jsprings 02/24/08 - 08:21 pm
0
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baroness...hey yeah and while

baroness...hey yeah and while im at it...i could tell them where hoffa is...or who killed that guy that one day back in that one year...or u could give me your number and I could tell you how much your sarcasm bores me....oh wait...i just did

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