Eight people were arrested Wednesday in Pine Bluff as part of an ongoing federal drug investigation that targets violent drug trafficking organizations operating in that city and other parts of Central Arkansas, announced Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The investigation, which began in 2018, led a federal grand jury to hand up indictments March 3 against 13 people, but the indictments remained sealed until the final eight defendants were rounded up Wednesday morning. Four were already in custody, and one has agreed to surrender, Hiland said.
Numerous drug traffickers have been identified and large quantities of cocaine, Ecstasy, methamphetamine and heroin have been seized during the investigation, Hiland's office reported.
The investigation revealed that a gang in Stuttgart was behind a lot of drug and violence reports taken by the Stuttgart Police Department, according to a news release. It identified the gang as Porter Black Mafia, also known as PBM, which it said detectives blamed for several shootings and other violent crimes in the Arkansas County city.
"The organization was also known for selling crack cocaine, marijuana and illegally obtained pills," the news release said. "Stuttgart police reported there have been several drug robberies in their city suspected to be carried out by the PBM organization."
In Pine Bluff and across Jefferson County, violent organizations were responsible for three or four shootings a night and several killings that were related to narcotics and gang rivalries, the news release said. It said local law enforcement officers identified the area's main violent gang as the Murder Gang and Murder MOB, or MOB, which is suspected of using 120 guns stolen from a Pine Bluff pawnshop to commit crimes in the community.
In response to the drug and gun violence in Pine Bluff and Stuttgart, the Drug Enforcement Administration opened Operation Mad Hatter in 2019, Hiland said. The operation's first arrests occurred in February 2019, and in August additional arrests occurred. He said Wednesday's arrests mark the third phase of the operation and brings the number of arrests to 43.
Kendrick Thorn of Pine Bluff was identified as the main defendant in the March indictments, which include drug trafficking and firearms charges.
Before Wednesday, Operation Mad Hatter had resulted in the seizure of 63.8 pounds of methamphetamine; 8.8 pounds of cocaine; 2.2 pounds of MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy; 3.3 pounds of heroin; 82 grams of fentanyl; more than 200 redirected prescription pills; more $107,000 in assets; and seven firearms, the news release said. It said that during Wednesday's arrests, officers recovered an additional 1.3 pounds of methamphetamine, about a pound of marijuana, three guns and about $6,000 cash.
"We appreciate the efforts of our many law enforcement partners who were instrumental in carrying out this investigation," Hiland said.
Participants in the investigation include the Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI; the Postal Inspection Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Arkansas State Police; police departments in Pine Bluff, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Benton; the Pulaski, Jefferson and Saline county sheriff's offices; the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force; and Arkansas Community Corrections.