Sampson County Sheriff’s investigators have played a pivotal role in recovering evidence that could be linked to the arrest of members of a Mexican drug trafficking organization believed responsible for the kidnapping of a South Carolina man earlier this month.
The Sampson Independent began investigating information received earlier this week that sheriff’s officers were responsible for recovering weapons allegedly used to commit the crime and received confirmation of that information’s validity Wednesday afternoon.
Sampson Sheriff Jimmy Thornton acknowledged that his office had worked diligently with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to follow up potential leads relating to the location of the firearms.
Although multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies executed multiple search warrants and successfully rescued the kidnapping victim on July 15, Thornton said some of the firearms were not recovered, until last weekend.
On Friday, and as part of the continuing investigation, firearms were located by Sheriff’s Office investigators at an undisclosed location in Sampson County. The firearms, the sheriff said, were turned over to the FBI.
Because of the sensitive nature of the federal case, Thornton would provide few other details.
“The recovered firearms are an essential piece of evidence in proving the allegations against the accused perpetrators, and the FBI was very appreciative,” the sheriff attested. “I’m glad that we were able to locate this critical evidence which will be used to keep these dangerous individuals off our streets.”
Thornton said he was thankful for the great working relationship his office had with those from federal, state and other local law enforcement partners. “This type of cooperation is essential when dealing with dangerous organizations such as drug cartels. Although Sampson County is a rural county, we are not immune from the violence of these types of drug trafficking organizations.
“The Sheriff’s Office has worked with the FBI, the DEA and the SBI on several cases over the years involving connections to these groups. We must all continue to be vigilant in order to keep our communities safe,” the sheriff asserted.
According to reports from The Associated Press, three men affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel kidnapped the man and held him for ransom for nearly a week in a dispute over $200,000 in marijuana.
The man was blindfolded and bound at a North Carolina home before FBI agents traced phone calls from his abductors and stormed the residence, rescuing him unharmed. His identity was being withheld for his safety.
According to reports on the case, three men, posing as police officers, pulled the man over on July 9 as he was going to work in his hometown of St. Matthews, about 30 miles out of Columbia. His truck was left running on the side of the road, its door still open.
Ransom demands of up to $400,000 were sent to the man’s family within hours of his disappearance and continued for several days. According to the AP, the victim reportedly received approximately $200,000 worth of marijuana from the cartel and delivered it to another dealer, but he could not repay the cartel. Authorities, the AP report noted, were not sure if he stole the drugs or was ripped off by the dealer.
Either way, the cartel is alleged to have retaliated by kidnapping the man and demanding the ransom.
Three men have been taken into custody for the kidnapping and are expected to be extradited to South Carolina where the case is expected to be prosecuted.
(Editor Sherry Matthews can be reached at 910-249-4612. Follow her on Twitter @sieditor1960; follow the paper @SampsonInd.)