Jerry Jerome Anderson sold $85,000 worth of drugs on Macon streets in a single night. A Macon-Bibb County drug task force busted him and helped in him receiving the first life-without-parole sentence from Middle Georgia federal court in 1991.
But the joint drug task force fizzled out a few years later as the city and county fought about who should run the task force and who should get money seized in drug busts. About 15 years after the task force ended, things are still fizzling. While officials say they like the idea, earlier efforts were doomed by communication problems, distrust and a lack of zeal.
Today, the Macon City Council’s public safety committee could take a fresh look at relaunching the joint city-county drug task force. Committee Chairman Virgil Watkins said it’s important to strengthen cooperation, particularly as Macon and Bibb County edge toward consolidating their services and governments. Both the county sheriff’s department and the police department run separate drug units that already share information.
“I do think in terms of consolidation, any time we can get cross-collaboration between our police department and our sheriff’s department, it’s good for the community,” Watkins said.
The renewed interest comes after Sheriff Jerry Modena talked about the idea with Bibb County commissioners and Macon Councilman Larry Schlesinger.
The county commissioners said they’d asked the city to talk about the idea more than a year ago, but county officials couldn’t find a copy of the letter. And city officials said they couldn’t find a copy of the letter, either, and speculated it was never sent.
But about two years ago, the city’s public safety committee looked over the idea, which withered away in part because of the old concerns about leadership and confiscated drug money, Watkins said.
Modena, who’s been calling for the joint drug task force to be revitalized since at least 2001, was its last commander. The task force mastered wiretaps and advanced equipment, and forged partnerships with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and even the Central Intelligence Agency to target big drug dealers.
Anderson, who had an annual payroll of more than $500,000, was the biggest bust; he ultimately was convicted on seven charges. The lead federal prosecutor, Miriam Duke, declared at the time of his conviction, “The king of cocaine has been dethroned.” She said that “the younger children looked up to him: They thought he was God. He wasn’t. He was just a dope dealer.”
The Macon-Bibb task force also targeted a high-profile Panamanian businessman, Carlos Eleta Alamaran, who had been helping undermine Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega. For a time, Eleta was kept in Bibb County’s jail until federal prosecutors dropped charges of money laundering and drug smuggling.
“I think the history of the Macon-Bibb County Drug Unit shows it was effective and efficient the whole time they were in existence,” Modena said.
Different decade, same obstacles
While city and county leaders are vowing greater cooperation on the way toward consolidation, they keep stumbling.
Besides the questions of how the drug task force would be paid for, and how any seized monies would be handled, basic questions of its operation would have to be decided. Modena said the old task force was always led by a sheriff’s official, with a city police officer as the No. 2 person. Modena said that’s for legal reasons: Sheriff’s deputies have jurisdiction across Bibb County, but police officers are only allowed to work within the city and would only have legal responsibility for the city.
Modena said he’s reluctant, as well, to deputize city police officers he doesn’t directly control.
Deputies are already working in Macon. Deputy Joseph Whitehead was shot to death in March 2006 when he was serving a “no knock” warrant within the city limits on Atherton Street, near Montpelier Avenue. Modena said officers with any agency serving that warrant would have gotten shot.
But the sheriff argues many of the county’s drug operations run on both sides of Macon’s city limits. And the drug money is fueling the gangs. A joint task force would be more effective, he said.
“It’s very apparent that we have a need. Some of the shootings, some of the killings, some of the collateral damage, if you trace it back, it comes back to the drugs,” he said.
Growing political support?
Schlesinger, who serves on Macon’s Public Safety Committee, said he’d like to discuss a joint drug task force today.
“I think it’s a great idea to pool our resources and work together to address what is a common problem everywhere in Bibb County, and a fundamental problem when it comes to Macon and Bibb County and everywhere, actually,” Schlesinger said.
In a January meeting, Bibb County commissioners spoke favorably about launching a new joint drug task force.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he didn’t know why the last task force failed, but sees a new one, like consolidation, as a way to work better and more efficiently.
“Communicating together, they can use all the intelligence they receive,” Hart said. “It just makes sense to have a joint effort. It worked well having a regional effort, as well.”
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.