Former Rival Gangs Join Forces to Sell Meth in Metro Atlanta

On June 24, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad (from Cherokee County, GA), and ICE Homeland Security Investigations announced that 47 arrest warrants had been served, on multiple charges including gang and drug related offenses. The arrests came as a result of a 9-month investigation in Metro Atlanta, code-named “Operation The Real McCoy”.

In September 2019, the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad (CMANS) began an investigation into a methamphetamine supply chain feeding into Cherokee County. The initial investigations led agents to DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties, with a focus on members of the Ghostface Gangsters.

The key players: The Ghostface Gangsters, the Gangster Disciples, and Sureños

The Ghostface Gangsters began to form around the year 2000 in Georgia, largely as a prison gang for white inmates, offering protection, drugs and cellphones. Unlike the Aryan Nations and others, it was not centered on white nationalist ideology.

In the early years, the gang was largely unorganized outside of prison. They tried to get into drug trafficking, but met with little success. One of the founding members began in June 2016 to introduce organizational structure, so they could more effectively branch into the drug trade.

The large number of agencies participated in the investigation, most prominently including CMANS, the GBI Gang Task Force, and ICE Homeland Security Investigations, which gets involved when there exists international aspect to the case. Based on the initial investigation, the participating agencies conducted an intensive investigation into a drug trafficking and distribution organization involving Brannon McCoy, age 26, Michael Hazelwood, age 45, and Tricia Setser, age 38; traffickers of methamphetamine operating within numerous counties in Georgia.

The investigation revealed a network involving members of the Ghostface Gangsters, the Gangster Disciples a mostly-black gang with members nationwide, and Sureños, which are Mexican-American gangs with a strongest presence in Southern California.

Arrestees were charged with violating the Georgia RICO Act

34 individuals were charged with Violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in Pickens County, as a result of “Operation The Real McCoy”.

These individuals conspired to participate in a racketeering enterprise, committed at least one overt act towards that goal, and conspired to commit a felony. Brannon McCoy acted as a broker from within the confines of the Sumter County Correctional Institute, for the distribution of methamphetamine sourced from drug cartel members based in Mexico to the streets of North Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

On June 24, agents arrested 13 individuals and seized over 136 kilograms of methamphetamine valued at $1.76 million, and approximately $100,000 in currency.

An alarming growth in gang membership, plus increased inter-gang cooperation

At the press conference called to announce the arrests, agents stressed an ominously growing cooperation between gangs to market illegal drugs more effectively. The shear growth in street gang membership in Georgia and in the U.S. as a whole was also highlighted.

@0:52 — With over 70,000 … gang members statewide, it is essential that … to fight this occupation of gang members that we have cooperation among the many agencies.

@2:45 — The gangs are cooperating, but so are the agencies that are going to stand against this evil.

@3:44 — We're looking at multiple gangs collaborating to import these narcotics into the region, specifically Sureños, working with the Ghostface Disciples etc. Mexico continues to be a major source of supply for methamphetamine here in the metro Atlanta area …

@4:32 — The numbers are growing … within the last few years, if you look at the National Gang Threat Assessment (the last one that was done was in 2011), as you saw, the rate grows, from 2005, to 2008, to 2011, you saw the numbers go from 800,000, all the way up to 1.4 million in that time period … there have been academic studies that showed that as of right now, the numbers are almost triple that … over an estimated 3 million gang members are in the United States. Within the state of Georgia, the last numbers that we have show … a total of roughly 71,000 members … in north metro [Atlanta] area, we're talking over 50,000 …

@5:36 — What we are seeing is a lot more cooperation between gangs, whereas we had traditional rival gangs, and those certainly have that, we are seeing a lot more … inter-gang cooperation. So where, as they say ‘I used to be red, I used to be blue, but now we're all about the green.’ So we're actually seeing more organization between gang members, in order to get their profits …