Federal Judge Sentences Three Methamphetamine Traffickers
CHARLOTTE, N.C (STL.News) Today, U.S. District Judge Kenneth D. Bell handed down sentences ranging from 120 to 144 months in prison, to three individuals for their involvement in a methamphetamine trafficking ring, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
Judge Bell sentenced the defendants as follows:
Christy Lee Latham, 43, of West Jefferson, N.C. was sentenced to 144 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. Latham pleaded guilty to methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy and distribute and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Latham’s sentence was enhanced due to her violation of her conditions of supervised release for a prior federal methamphetamine trafficking conviction.
Joshua Dean Lipford, 33, of Trade, Tennessee, was sentenced to 138 months in prison and five years of supervised release. Lipford pleaded guilty to methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy.
Chasty Elaine Hinson Stallings, 40, of Morganton, N.C., was sentenced to 120 months in prison and five years of supervised release. Stallings pleaded guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and one count of possession of firearm by felon.
A fourth defendant, Heather Renee Arnold pleaded guilty on December 23, 2020, to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and is awaiting sentencing.
According to court documents and today’s sentencing hearing, in September 2019, Stallings was a part of a methamphetamine trafficking ring operating in Caldwell County and elsewhere. Over the course of the investigation Stallings was found in possession of 730 grams of 97.9% pure methamphetamine and a firearm. According to court records, between February and March 2020, in Ashe and Watauga Counties, and elsewhere, law enforcement seized more than 750 grams of methamphetamine with purity greater than 94% from Arnold, Latham, and Lipford.
This case is the result of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Operation “Dixie Crystal.” According to court documents, since 2015, more than 220 individuals have been prosecuted as a result of the Dixie Crystal investigation. Court records show that the drug trafficking organizations involved have trafficked methamphetamine worth millions of dollars. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized far in excess of 100 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, $1,000,000 in U.S. currency and other assets, and dozens of firearms. OCDETF is a joint federal, state and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking and is the nation’s primary tool for disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, targeting national and regional drug trafficking organizations and coordinating the necessary law enforcement entities and resources to disrupt or dismantle the targeted criminal organization and seize their assets.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray recognized the following federal, state and local agencies which partnered in Operation Dixie Crystal, and thanked them for their continued cooperation and support: the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI); Alexander County Sheriff’s Office; Ashe County Sheriff’s Office; Boone Police Department; Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office; Hickory Police Department; Jefferson Police Department; North Wilkesboro Police Department; Watauga County Sheriff’s Office; Wilkesboro Police Department; and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Tennessee.
The prosecutions are being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.