Police wiretaps in Greenwood drug probe valid, judge rules

Losing a bid to suppress wiretap evidence in a Greenwood area drug case were, clockwise from upper left, Abdul T. White, Gary D. Williams, James M. Smith, Taquen G. Owens, and Kevin A. McDonald Jr. (Submitted photos/Delaware State Police)

Losing a bid to suppress wiretap evidence in a Greenwood area drug case were, clockwise from upper left, Abdul T. White, Gary D. Williams, James M. Smith, Taquen G. Owens, and Kevin A. McDonald Jr. (Submitted photos/Delaware State Police)

DOVER — Police wiretaps during a 2015 large scale drug investigation in the Greenwood area were valid, a judge ruled in June, and evidence from them can be part of the case moving forward.

On May 19 in Kent County Superior Court, attorneys for seven defendants argued to suppress the wiretaps, pointing to perceived minimal facts and “stale, conclusory, and boilerplate language” in affidavits requesting them, according to Judge Jeffrey Clark in a 53-page opinion released June 22.

Defendants Francisco F. Felton V, Johnie McDonald, Kevin A. McDonald Jr., Taquen G. Owens, James Smith, Abdul White and Gary D. Williams are among 19 people charged after investigation into an alleged long-running drug operation in the area of Unity Lane, nicknamed “the Hole,” in Greenwood, papers said.

The court found the Delaware State Police’s wiretaps reasonable, pointing to one 53-page affidavit “containing sufficient particularized facts to establish probable cause and necessity.

“As discussed, the affidavit is broken down into various sections: introduction of the affiants, introduction to the investigation, identities of those believed to be intercepted …

“Short summaries of the confidential informants used during the investigation, the geographical considerations of Unity Lane, investigation and probable cause, need for interception, physical surveillance, search warrants, use of Attorney General Subpoenas, investigation through the use of confidential informants, undercover officers, and controlled purchases …”

Wiretaps were sought by the Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 17, 2015, as “The investigation’s goals of identifying the source of drugs, stash locations, and identifying additional members of the Organization were not met” despite using “three confidential informants, physical surveillance, pole cameras, controlled buys, search warrants, suspect interviews, and pen registers” techniques that yielded some results, the opinion read.

Code words described

According to the opinion, six wiretaps of prepaid Verizon and personal phone accounts were involved. After evidence was obtained from the first wiretap, five more followed as an investigative trail developed, police said.

A police affidavit described the Unity Lane location as full of trees and foliage, making effective aerial surveillance not possible.

Also, community members were quite familiar with each other and noticed any outsiders, making even undercover operations challenging, according to police. Two surveillance operations involving drive-by troopers and sniper/observers in a nearby wooded area were aborted after the deployment was spotted, authorities said.

During the wiretaps, police alleged coded terms such as “jawns,” “green ones,” were used during a supposed marijuana transaction, and the price was given by asking what the “ticket on it” was. The answer of “twenty-five” translated to $1,250, police claimed.

In other conversations, “dog food” identified heroin, police alleged, and “my usual” suggested cocaine. A “bun” and “forty of hand” was taken by police to mean crack cocaine costing $40 each. “Bud” and “Smoke” described marijuana, police believed, “logs” were 10 bundles of heroin and “half a ball” indicated a quantity of cocaine.

At one point, according to allegations in an affidavit, high grade marijuana would cost “eight-two racks,” the translation for $18,200.

In the opinion, Judge Clark noted a defendant argued four calls were “completely innocent and unrelated to drug activity.” In another case, two defendants argued slang terms they used were “innocent” and they “offer their personal interpretations of those terms,” the opinion read.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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