PINE BLUFF, Ark. (News release) — Twelve defendants are in custody after a DEA operation led to several arrests this morning as part of a federal drug investigation. Operation Mad Hatter has resulted in the identification of multiple drug traffickers and the seizure of large quantities of cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and heroin.
Operation Mad Hatter, run by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, is an ongoing DEA Domestic Cartel Initiative investigation. Today’s arrests follow the unsealing of indictments of 13 individuals who were charged by a federal grand jury on March 3, 2020. Of those, eight were taken into custody this morning, four were already in police custody, and one has made arrangements to turn herself in.
The investigation was initiated in June 2018 to target violent drug trafficking organizations operating in central Arkansas and, in particular, Pine Bluff. The investigation revealed that the Stuttgart Police Department was responding to drug and violence caused by a local gang organization called Porter Block Mafia, or PBM. Detectives reported this particular organization was responsible for several shootings and other violent crimes in Stuttgart. The organization was also known for selling crack cocaine, marijuana and illegally-obtained pills. Stuttgart police reported there have been several drug robberies in their city suspected to be carried out by the PBM organization.
The Pine Bluff Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office advised investigators that the main violent gang organization in their community is known as Murder Gang and Murder MOB, or MOB. Local investigators advised that these violent organizations were responsible for three to four shootings a night in their community as well as several murders. Both agencies advised that the killings were related to narcotics and gang rivalries. Additionally, over 120 firearms had been stolen from a pawn shop in Pine Bluff, and police advised that they suspected MOB has been using these stolen weapons to commit crimes in their community.
In response to the drug and gun violence in Pine Bluff and Stuttgart, DEA launched Operation Mad Hatter in 2019. In February 2019, DEA made the first arrests related to the operation, and in August 2019, additional arrests resulted from activity uncovered during the ongoing investigation. Today’s arrests mark the third phase of the operation, which has resulted in a total of 43 arrests to date.
On March 3, 2020, the grand jury for the Eastern District of Arkansas returned an indictment charging Kendrick Thorn and 11 codefendants in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, as well as firearms offenses. Thorn and three codefendants are charged with enhanced penalties based on prior convictions for drug trafficking and crimes of violence. Four additional defendants are indicted with drug trafficking and firearm offenses in separate indictments.
During the course of Operation Mad Hatter, investigators have seized 29 kilograms of methamphetamine, four kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), 1.5 kilograms of heroin, 82 grams of fentanyl, over 200 diverted prescription pills, more than $107,000 in assets, and seven firearms. During today’s arrests, officers recovered an additional 600 grams of methamphetamine, approximately one pound of marijuana, three firearms, and approximately $6,000 in U.S. currency.
“Today’s arrests demonstrate that law enforcement is working hard to eradicate drugs and violence from our communities,” stated Cody Hiland, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. “This third phase of Operation Mad Hatter is an example of the continued pressure we will apply to drug trafficking organizations. We appreciate the efforts of our many law enforcement partners who were instrumental in carrying out this investigation.”
“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our communities. This Domestic Cartel Initiative operation is a powerful attack against a violent drug trafficking organization and will have an immediate impact in this region of Arkansas and beyond,” DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Justin King said. “The resulting arrests demonstrate the combined strength local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies bring to bear in the fight against these domestic cartels and strike a substantial blow to their drug trafficking operations. By working together, we are leveraging our respective resources to achieve results that we could not accomplish on our own.”
Shirley Washington, Mayor of Pine Bluff, stated, “The City of Pine Bluff is committed to revitalizing our community and making this a place of destination for families, students, and businesses to thrive. We support all efforts to make this a safe environment for such progress to grow and flourish.”
“These arrests represent a lengthy investigation and send a clear message to drug traffickers. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will defend the nation’s mail system from illegal use, and stopping the flow of dangerous drugs to our cities is a high priority,” said D. Glen Henderson, Acting Inspector in Charge of the Fort Worth Division. “Removing drugs from the streets and taking guns from criminals is always a victory for the community. We thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and all county, state and local law enforcement officers who worked together with Postal Inspectors to make this investigation a success.”
Operation Mad Hatter is a joint investigation with participation from the DEA Little Rock District Office; FBI; United States Postal Inspection Service; United States Marshals Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives; Arkansas State Police; Pine Bluff Police Department and the Narcotics Unit; Little Rock Police Department; North Little Rock Police Department; Benton Police Department; Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office; Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office; Saline County Sheriff’s Office; Central Arkansas Drug Task Force; and Arkansas Community Corrections.