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Man pleads guilty in east Arkansas drug investigation

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published April 17, 2012 at 11:13 a.m. Updated April 17, 2012 at 3:30 p.m.

A man entered a guilty plea to a drug conspiracy charge Tuesday and admitted to playing a role in an east Arkansas drug ring that resulted in 70 indictments, including that of five law enforcement officers.

Demond McKinney, 36, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., entered his plea after Assistant U.S. Attorney Benecia Moore summarized a series of phone conversations the FBI recorded between McKinney and two of the alleged leaders of the drug scheme.

A grand jury handed up the indictments in October, alleging that Sedrick Trice and Leon Edwards ran a drug operation in Phillips County that supplied powder and crack cocaine to an area that included parts of east Arkansas, northwest Mississippi and west Tennessee.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody told McKinney he could be sentenced to between five and 40 years in prison, with supervised release that could stretch to the end of his life.

Moore read from court documents that illustrated four phone calls that McKinney made to Trice to arrange cocaine deals involving as much as 2.2 pounds. There were also two phone calls, one with Trice and one with Edwards, involving the sale of firearms, including an AK-47.

McKinney was jailed for two months after his October arrest but was freed to await the disposition of his case. Moody said McKinney could remain free under the same terms pending his sentencing, which hasn’t been scheduled.

The judge noted that part of McKinney’s plea agreement would be filed under seal.

McKinney, who wore track pants and a white T-shirt, had two charges dismissed in exchange for the felony guilty plea. He gave short answers to Moody’s questions but at one point elaborated that he didn’t possess a firearm but worked to broker deals during the phone calls in question. Moody said McKinney had a prior felony conviction.

The guilty plea is the 13th for the government in the probe known as “Operation Delta Blues.”

Four of five law enforcement officers, who were accused of protecting drug shipments through Phillips County, have pleaded guilty, with the fifth indicating he wants to go to trial.

Trice, 28, is to be sentenced Wednesday.

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