Sheriff’s Department begins drug round-up

The Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department this morning began rounding up 24 mostly street-level alleged drug dealers in an operation code-named Iron Justice. The names of the defendants who had been arrested by late morning were not available. All were indicted by a Hamblen County grand jury last week.

Lt. Gene Watson, who heads up narcotics investigations for the sheriff’s department, said most of the audiotaped drug transactions occurred in 2018 and involved methamphetamine. Watson says he wanted to present the cases to a grand jury earlier, but the coronavirus-related statewide court shutdown delayed his plans on two occasions.

One of the primary targets in Iron Justice was a man who sold fairly large quantities of prescription drugs and cocaine. Another high-profile target was a female crystal-meth dealer who narrowly missed being indicted by a federal grand jury in a prosecution headed by Trinidad “Nit” Balderas Jr., who was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison.

“We couldn’t get enough weight on her to get her up there,” Watson said this morning.

Despite continuing state and federal prosecutions of Hamblen County crystal-meth dealers, Watson says “it’s as available as it’s ever been.” The shutdown of the U.S.-Mexico border caused a spike in the price of meth, but it’s currently trending downward.

Watson says at one time meth sold for between $450 and $600 an ounce. In March, the going rate was $600 to $1,200 per ounce, according to Watson.

“The price came down in June, and it’s still a little higher than it was before,” he said.