Two members of a violent drug trafficking ring that operated in and around Little Rock and Pine Bluff entered guilty pleas during back-to-back hearings Thursday before U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson.
Jahoney Malik Russell and Clansey Cole Hedrick entered guilty pleas to one count each of conspiracy to possess and distribute a controlled substance. Upon sentencing, each man faces up to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $1 million.
Prosecutors said the two men were part of an unnamed drug trafficking ring that was responsible for moving large quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and prescription pills throughout the state, with much of the illegal drugs coming from Mexican cartels. The ring was taken down in February 2019 as part of an ongoing, multi-agency initiative called Operation Mad Hatter that was launched in June 2018 to target violent drug trafficking operations in central Arkansas.
Russell and Hedrick are two of 12 people arrested in the first phase of the operation who were named in a 22-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury.
As he was explaining the sentencing process to Russell, Wilson, wearing a face mask and clear plastic face shield, lightened the mood in the courtroom when he suddenly began sneezing.
"It's not the covid," Wilson said, drawing laughs from around the courtroom. "I have dogs and I'm allergic to dogs."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Gardner told the court that on Dec. 11, 2018, a co-conspirator told prosecutors that he was purchasing quantities of heroin from a Little Rock man known as "Supreme," who was identified as Russell's father, Chico Jahoney Russell, who was reputedly the head of the drug trafficking ring.
"The co-conspirator told detectives that the defendant was going to travel to Fayetteville to deliver heroin on behalf of his father," Gardner said.
She said that on Dec. 15, 2018, Russell was arrested in Fayetteville with 15.7 grams of heroin.
Gardner said a wiretap on the elder Russell's phone intercepted a phone call between the two in January 2019.
"During the call, the defendant asked his father how much he could cut, or dilute, the heroin and still make a profit," Gardner said.
On June 20, 2019, she said Little Rock police discovered 10 grams of heroin and a set of scales in Russell's possession during a traffic stop. She said when he was arrested on a warrant in August 2019, police found 10 grams of heroin and distribution materials in his home.
Gardner said that in November 2018, a Drug Enforcement Administration informant contacted Hedrick regarding a heroin purchase. After meeting Hedrick in Little Rock, Gardner said, the informant produced a half-gram of heroin purportedly purchased for $150 from Hedrick during the transaction.
She said the next month, Little Rock police arrested Hedrick after finding heroin and drug paraphernalia in his car during a traffic stop. During questioning, Gardner said, Hedrick admitted selling heroin to other people.
After entering a guilty plea, Russell, who has been in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service since last June, was escorted from the courtroom and transported back to jail.
Hedrick, who has been out of jail on pre-trial release after completing substance abuse treatment and getting a job, was allowed to go free until his sentencing.
"You understand you're walking on eggshells and crackers, don't you?" Wilson drawled as the hearing ended.
"Yes, sir," Hedrick responded.
"OK, then," Wilson said. "You've got to really follow the do-right rule now."
"I've been working really hard on that, sir," Hedrick said.
Both men are scheduled to be sentenced by Wilson on April 15, Hedrick at 10:30 a.m. and Russell at 1:30 p.m.
Chico "Supreme" Russell is scheduled to appear before Wilson Feb. 25 at 1:30 p.m. for a plea and sentencing hearing. The remaining nine defendants; Terrance Deandre Jackson, Edmond Dawayne Battles, Brandon Dean Banks, Justin L Nugent, Adam J Besser, Justin Wayne McClure, Elliott Easton Davies, Jasmine Ariel Scott and Ashia Michelle Brason, are scheduled for trial July 6 at 1:30 p.m.