2020-01-10 ne-killagorillasp

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores announced the distribution of $2 million in seized cash to area law enforcement agencies at a press conference Thursday. STETSON PAYNE/Tulsa World

A years-long operation by local and federal law enforcement led to $2 million in seized money going to area agencies.

At a Thursday news conference at Broken Arrow’s Public Safety Headquarters, U.S. Attorney Trent Shores announced the distribution of the seized cash. The money was seized as illicit drug proceeds after Operation: Killa Gorilla targeted a synthetic marijuana ring in northeast Oklahoma.

“Our men and women in law enforcement began seeing in schools, in hospitals, in work sites and their jails a recurring problem,” Shores said. “Citizens were overdosing, and distributors, who without cause or care of who they sold it to, including youth, were doing damage to the fabric of our community.”

Shores said law enforcement, working hand-in-hand with federal prosecutors, was able to “disrupt and dismantle a synthetic marijuana distribution organization.”

The Owasso Police Department, along with the Claremore Police Department and Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, received $85,000.

The Army National Guard also received over $19,000, and the Tulsa Police Department, Broken Arrow Police Department, Rogers County Sheriff’s Office and Sapulpa Police Department each received more than $250,000.

Operation: Killa Gorilla, named for a brand of synthetic marijuana manufactured by one of the case’s defendants, began in

2013 as an effort by federal and Tulsa area law enforcement.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Drug Enforcement Administration started working with local agencies in 2013 to disrupt a large ring of smoke shops selling synthetic cannabinoids.

John Scott, DEA assistant special agent in charge who runs the agency’s Oklahoma operations, said the operation’s scope and the shops operating on tribal land led to the federal government’s involvement.

“Countless hours of surveillance, undercover buys, subpoenas, financial analysis by the IRS and DEA, led to the eventual seizure of over $2 million,” Scott said. “(It’s) a huge impact taking those proceeds from drug traffickers operating in our area.

“This investigation and others like it eventually led to the end of this epidemic that was plaguing northeast Oklahoma at the time. Just a few short years ago, that was big news here and you hardly hear about it anymore.”

The shops’ owner, John Ray James of Dewey, pleaded guilty in January 2017 and was later sentenced to five years’ probation in what was alleged to be an $8.2 million conspiracy.

Stetson Payne 918-732-8135

stetson.payne@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @stetson__payne