One of 15 people indicted in a Chicot County drug ring investigation, dubbed "Operation Quack Attack," pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court for his role in the conspiracy and could face up to 40 years in prison.
Tristen Taylor, 23, of Eudora, appeared by video from the Miller County jail before Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. Thursday to plead guilty to one count of narcotics conspiracy contained in a superseding information. The information was submitted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters in exchange for the government's agreement to dismiss an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in September 2019.
In that indictment, Taylor was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine, four counts of narcotics distribution and one count of using a telephone to further a drug trafficking crime. Because of the amount of drugs involved, Taylor could have faced a life sentence if convicted on the conspiracy count.
In the information, Taylor was charged with conspiring with co-defendant Kashif Lucas to distribute 50-500 grams of methamphetamine, subjecting him to a sentence between five and 40 years in prison, a fine up to $5 million and not less than four years supervised release.
Peters outlined the plea agreement with Taylor, including Taylor's waiving of formal indictment and agreement to plead guilty to the single conspiracy count contained in the superseding information.
Under the stipulations of the plea agreement, Peters said Taylor agreed the amount of methamphetamine involved was between 500 grams and 1.5 kilograms, which under U.S. sentencing guidelines results in a base offense level of 30 with up to a three-level reduction for his acceptance of responsibility in the crime.
Marshall then quizzed Taylor on his understanding of the plea agreement, asking him if the terms iterated by Peters were the same terms he had agreed to. Taylor indicated that to be the case.
"Did you and Mr. Lucas work together to distribute methamphetamine?" Marshall asked.
"Yes, sir," Taylor responded.
"Did you know what you were doing?" Marshall asked.
"Yes, sir," Taylor said.
Taylor and eight co-defendants, five from Chicot County and four from central Arkansas, were charged with being parts of a drug trafficking ring headed by Cantral Huggins of Benton. Another six people, all from Chicot County, were charged in individual indictments with various drug trafficking charges related to the investigation.
According to information from the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock, Operation Quack Attack, a joint investigation between federal, state and local authorities that began in 2016 and culminated in the indictments of 15 people in September 2019, resulted in the seizure of assorted drugs and firearms and several thousand dollars in cash in addition to the arrests.
Upon accepting Taylor's guilty plea, Marshall granted Peters' motion to dismiss the indictment against him.
"Just like you've started living up to your side of this deal," Marshall told Taylor, "that's Ms. Peters and the United States living up to its side of the deal in asking that the original charge be dismissed."
Marshall explained that a sentencing hearing will be scheduled sometime in the fall after the completion, review and final acceptance of a pre-sentencing report to be prepared by the pre-trial services and probation office.
Regarding the other eight co-defendants named in the indictment, Peters told Marshall that currently none of those defendants were scheduled to make a plea and are currently scheduled to go to trial July 26.
"But I think there's a very slim chance that we'll be prepared to go on that date," Peters said. "I have another case that is older that is going before this court on that date and we can't all be in two places at once."