Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A seven-month undercover investigation has ended with 77 suspects arrested on various charges, said Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength Tuesday.
News 12 has been following the details of Operation Smoke Screen all day. Strength says dozens of suspects are facing charges in one of the biggest stings since Operation Fox Hunt and the previous Augusta Ink. Augusta Ink targeted gangs and drugs, Operation Fox Hunt was about weapons and Operation Smoke Screen targeted burglary suspects.
The undercover investigation exploded Tuesday morning when more than 120 officers, U.S. Marshals and federal agents swarmed Augusta neighborhoods.
Click the links below to see our other stories on Operation Smoke Screen:
Operation Smoke Screen began in August of 2011 and is expected to net more than $500,000 in stolen merchandise. The investigation has identified the suspects in 104 burglaries, 12 car break-ins and 15 thefts. So far, 64 firearms have been recovered.
The U.S. Attorney's office unsealed 15 indictments that charge 24 people with federal weapons charges. An additional 85 people are charged by the Augusta area District Attorney's Office on burglary, theft, firearm and drug charges.
One by one, van after van, suspect after suspect, all paraded into the Richmond County Jail before sunrise Tuesday morning. News 12 was there as the suspects were hauled in.
If Tuesday's bust sounds familiar, it should.
Operation Smoke Screen is Richmond County's third large undercover bust in just four and half years.
Since 2007, Richmond County investigators have become experts at taking down criminals when the rest of Augusta is sleeping.
Last March, investigators also went in under the cover of darkness and arrested more than 70 suspects in Operation Fox Hunt.
Rounding them up like cattle, van after van were hauled in, pulled out of bed and taken to jail. The target was mostly illegal guns, and investigators recovered 200 weapons, drugs and plenty of stolen property.
Operation Fox Hunt was a 19-month long investigation where two undercover officers infiltrated an urban clothing store. The Sheriff's Office partnered with ATF Agents, the U.S. Attorney's Office and U.S. Marshal's Office.
Then in 2007, Operation Augusta Ink was Richmond County's first large storefront bust. Undercover investigators were operating out of a tattoo parlor.
Augusta Ink's target was gang members. More than 70 people were arrested, including members of six of the major area gangs. It also ended with 400 recovered guns, many of them stolen.
More than 150 law enforcement officers took part in Augusta Ink.
The Sheriff's Office says although each operation had its obstacles, but Operation Smoke Screen was the most complicated to organize. When you're talking half a million dollars worth of merchandise, it takes time and a lot of effort to sort through, and really -- they're just getting started.
Watch the full video from Tuesday's news conference here:
Here is a list of the suspects captured in Operation Smoke Screen. We will be keeping this list updated as more names come in.
List of those charged with federal firearms offenses:
Here's a list of the 14 suspects still wanted:
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