The lead defendant in a major methamphetamine-trafficking organization has been sentenced to two decades in federal prison after admitting his participation in a conspiracy related to at least one overdose death.
Jayson Dwayne Wheatley, 42, of Augusta, was sentenced to 240 months in prison after previously pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute, and to Distribute, 50 Grams or More of Methamphetamine, and an Amount of Heroin, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall also fined Wheatley $2,500 and ordered him to serve five years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.
There is no parole in the federal system.
“The epidemic of drug overdoses and deaths continues to ravage our nation, and traffickers like Jayson Wheatley pour gasoline on this raging fire while enabling violent crime from the illicit drug trade,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners and prosecutors, he and his co-conspirators are being held accountable for their crimes.”
As described in court documents and testimony, Wheatley and his co-defendants were indicted in April 2022 in USA v. Wheatley et. al, based on evidence gathered during the investigation in Operation Wheat Fields. The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces investigation began in early 2018 and identified a pipeline of illegal drugs from Mexico routed through Atlanta and into the Augusta area. The investigation led to multiple searches of residences and hotel rooms, and linked at least one overdose death in the Augusta area to drugs distributed by the conspiracy.
In addition to Wheatley, six other defendants were named in the federal indictment. Two have been sentenced to federal prison; three defendants await sentencing after pleading guilty to related charges. One defendant awaits further court proceedings.
A related indictment in Operation Wheat Fields, USA v. Fields et. al, named 10 additional defendants in October 2022. One of those defendants has entered a guilty plea; the remaining defendants await further court proceedings and are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
“ATF will continue to work alongside our federal, state and local partners in furtherance of reducing violent crime,” said Beau Kolodka, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“These criminal drug organizations deliver misery and death to communities everywhere,” said Robert J. Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Division. “This defendant will no longer be able to distribute the poison that destroys our communities.”
The case was investigated under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF). OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.
Operation Wheat Fields was investigated by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office; and the Swainsboro Police Department, and prosecuted for the United States by Southern District of Georgia Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Chief Patricia G. Rhodes.