A Lincolnton man, among nearly 30 individuals charged by federal officials Tuesday for drug trafficking and illegal firearm possession, faces a possible 40-year prison sentence, the United States Attorney’s Office in North Carolina’s Western district said.
Currently in state custody, Kerston Deshawn Edwards, 24, was indicted for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, federal officials said.
One of nine suspects charged in the federal operation, Edwards is no stranger to the criminal justice system, having been convicted of multiple felony drug-related offenses in Lincoln and Gaston Counties since 2008, according to the N.C. Department of Corrections website.
He has also been arrested in various Lincoln County drug roundups conducted by the Sheriff’s Office and Lincolnton Police Department in recent years, county narcotics investigators said.
Edwards faces up to four decades in prison and a $5 million fine for the recent federal charge, the release said.
An additional 19 suspects, all Catawba County residents, were placed in handcuffs Tuesday in connection with the federal government’s seven-month-long anti-violence investigation targeting drug and gun traffickers in Hickory and the surrounding region, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Federal officials described the suspects as convicted felons and members of gangs and other area drug trafficking organizations.
A year ago this month, federal and local law enforcement officers commenced the investigation, the release said.
A federal grand jury indicted the suspects on Oct. 15; indictments remained sealed until this week.
Throughout the investigation, undercover officers seized more than 1,100 grams of cocaine and 230 grams of marijuana — a more than $55,000 value — federal officials said, along with 80 total firearms.
Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins, whose agency worked jointly with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), to conduct the investigation, stated in the federal release that he and his department, part of the Catawba County Safe Communities Initiative, are committed to keeping city streets free of drugs and violence.
“This focused investigation…will have a lasting impact on reducing violence and taking drugs off the streets of Hickory and other communities in Catawba County,” he said.
In addition to Hickory Police and the ATF, this week’s roundup operation was carried out by the U.S. Marshals Service, deputies with the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office and officers with police agencies in Newton, Conover and Longview.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Dillon, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, is serving as lead prosecutor in the case.