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76 arrested in drug operation on North Carolina tribal land

Last month, federal officials announced that 76 people here in North Carolina were arrested in an undercover drug operation that involved multiple law enforcement agencies. The purpose of the sting was to apprehend people engaged in drug trafficking on and around tribal lands — specifically, those belonging to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — and to work to break up the drug distribution networks in that area.

The reservation targeted is known as the Qualla Boundary. It sits on about 56,000 acres of land near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Agents say they seized over 18 pounds of methamphetamine and over 3.8 pounds of fentanyl and heroin. They also seized other drugs, including oxycodone and marijuana. In all, they say the drugs would have been worth over $1.82 million on the street.

The operation, which began in March of this year, involved federal agencies including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Department of Interior (DOI). State and local agencies, including the Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD), were also part of the operation.

The U.S. attorney for the area, who held a joint press conference with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after the arrests were made, talked about how the nationwide opioid epidemic has "devastated Indian Country." He said that "drug-fueled crimes and drug abuse pose a grave threat to the safety, stability, cultural preservation, and well-being of the tribal community."

Of the 76 people arrested, a dozen were charged with federal crimes. They range in age from 21 to 56, although most are in their 20s. All but one is from North Carolina, with most from Cherokee and Bryson City.

Anyone arrested in a large-scale drug sting must ensure that they don't get convicted of drug-related crimes they didn't commit. Being involved with others who may have committed serious drug offenses, e.g., trafficking, can get you arrested. You need a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and present your case.

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