Accused Cocke County methamphetamine dealer Derek Clint Francis indicated Thursday he’ll plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams in what’s the most significant develop in the federal prosecution since Francis and seven others were indicted in December 2019, according to court documents.
What makes Francis’ plea agreement crucial is that it implicates the alleged conspiracy leader, 41-year-old Steven Edward Lewis, the No. 2 defendant, Derek Clint Hommel, and a woman named Sarah Elizabeth Angelbeck. The two plea agreements filed earlier did not implicate the two lead defendants.
During an October 2019 interview with law enforcement officials, Francis identified the three as his suppliers and explained “he had purchased multiple grams from these codefendants on multiple occasions,” according to his plea agreement.
By the time federal prosecutors were making final preparations to present the evidence to a grand jury, they had leverage on Francis.
In two recorded drug deals in May 2019, Francis sold to a confidential informant. He sold 7.4 grams for $400 at a Newport truck stop. In a deal that went down in the parking lot of the Newport Walmart two days later, he sold 1.9 grams for $270, according to the plea agreement, which states Francis reported he sold meth for two years before he was caught.
Francis, his three alleged suppliers and four others were caught up in a kilogram-quantity investigation that involved the Cocke County Sheriff’s Department, the Newport Police Department, the Fourth Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives.
“The organization obtained kilograms ... from large transnational criminal organizations (cop-speak for Mexican drug cartels) and other methamphetamine suppliers located inside and outside the state of Tennessee,” the plea agreement states.
In addition to the 50-gram conspiracy charge, a federal grand jury indicted Lewis for two counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offense, possessing a firearm while being a meth user and five 5-gram, meth-distribution counts.
The alleged distribution crimes are very likely related to alleged crimes that are likely related to five meth-distribution charges pending in Cocke County Criminal Court. Lewis’ prior felony convictions included running a chop-shop operation and theft.