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Final defendant sentenced to prison in Operation Vanilla Gorilla, one year after indictments

The operation represented largest-ever takedown of criminal street gang

Operation represented largest-ever takedown of criminal street gang

The investigation and prosecution dubbed Operation Vanilla Gorilla reached its ultimate milestone this week with the federal prison sentence of the final defendant, representing the wrap-up one year after indictments.

Shawn Hadden, a/k/a “Shorty,” 43, of Bloomingdale, Ga., was sentenced Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 in U.S. District Court by Judge R. Stan Baker to 148 months in prison for Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Methamphetamine, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Hadden pled guilty to the charges in March.

Hadden’s sentence follows a 280-month sentence for a key defendant, Trevor Aines, a/k/a “Sticks,” 30, of Garden City, Ga. His sentence, the longest of any of the defendants, followed a guilty plea to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Methamphetamine, and to Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug-Trafficking Crime.

After completion of their prison terms, Hadden and Aines will serve a period of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.

“It’s significant that the final sentence in Vanilla Gorilla was delivered one year after our office announced the indictments in this operation,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “While the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors mark the speedy and satisfying resolution of these cases, the citizens of the Southern District can celebrate that their neighborhoods are safer because 43 dangerous felons have been relocated to federal prison.”

Operation Vanilla Gorilla was investigated under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), the premier U.S. Department of Justice program to dismantle multi-jurisdictional drug trafficking organizations. It targeted a major drug trafficking conspiracy linked to the Ghost Face Gangsters, a violent, white supremacist street gang that started and spread from Georgia’s prison system. The 43 men and women were named in November 2018 in a 93-paged, 83-count federal indictment for a multitude of federal offenses, including trafficking methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, illegal firearms possession and counterfeiting.

The drug-trafficking conspiracy began as early as 2015 until the date of the indictments, having distributed illegal drugs through a large part of the Southern District including Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans and Tattnall counties. In addition to illegal drug seizures as part of the investigation, investigators also seized 36 firearms, including stolen weapons, a rifle with a silencer and a sawed-off shotgun.

All of the defendants pled guilty to the charges. Most of these defendants were on probation or parole when they committed the offenses, so their federal sentences will run consecutive to the sentences for violating state probation or parole.

Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Atlanta Field Division commented, “It’s uplifting to see the final chapter of this investigation come to a victorious end, not only for the entire law enforcement community, but also for the citizens of the Southern District who were directly impacted by this white supremacist gang. This gang wreaked havoc by distributing methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, while leaving a destructive path of violence along the way. Today, we are proud to have shut down this once-thriving criminal network. I want to thank our federal, state and local law enforcement counterparts and the U.S. Attorney’s Office who aided in making this investigation a success.”

“At the end of the day, citizens want to feel safe in their communities,” said Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Director Vic Reynolds. “With the conclusion of this case, law enforcement demonstrates that this is important to us too. Getting violent offenders, drugs, and guns off the streets is a continuous effort between police and prosecutors. Gang-related activity will not be tolerated in south Georgia or any other part of the state.”

“The Ghost Face Gangsters regularly attacked our community by distributing drugs and performing various violent acts,” said Everett Ragan, Director of the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team (CNT). “These attacks on our communities is an attack on all of us. I am proud that the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team helped played an instrumental role in the collaborated law enforcement response to stop these dangerous individuals.”

“The conclusion of this phase of the investigation verifies that cooperation between the multiple agencies involved has been a huge success in making all of our communities safer,” said Mitch Shores, chief of the Richmond Hill Police Department.

Operation Vanilla Gorilla was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the DEA, the U.S. Secret Service, GBI, CNT, the Georgia Department of Corrections Intelligence Division, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, the Evans County Sheriff’s Office, the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office, the Savannah Police Department, the Chatham County Police Department, the Richmond Hill Police Department, the Pooler Police Department, the Port Wentworth Police Department, the Rincon Police Department, the Pembroke Police Department, the Claxton Police Department, and the Bloomingdale Police Department, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys E. Greg Gilluly Jr. and Frank Pennington.

OPERATION VANILLA GORILLA BY THE NUMBERS:

43 defendants

21 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies

561 previous arrests of defendants: 184 felony convictions, 184 misdemeanors

4 defendants had more than 10 felony convictions each

4,500 months: total sentences for all defendants

104 months in prison: Average sentence per defendant

36 firearms seized

Drugs seized:

  • Kilograms of methamphetamine
  • Pounds of marijuana
  • Quantities of heroin
  • MDMA
  • Crack cocaine
  • Powder cocaine

 

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