HUNT awarded for helping feds convict drug kingpin

News File Photo A Huron Undercover Narcotics Team logo appears in this News archive photo.

ALPENA — Actions by Huron Undercover Narcotics Team detectives provided the missing link needed to convict a man federal agents had investigated for years, according to a citation awarded to the officers on Friday.

In December, HUNT detectives uncovered an illegal marijuana grow operation in Alpena County, the proceeds of which went into the pockets of a convicted murderer who headed a multi-state drug trafficking organization from inside a Tennessee prison.

HUNT’s investigative work led to the conviction of Charles Elsea, sentenced in August to life in prison for money laundering and distributing more than 56 kilograms of methamphetamine, according to a unit citation awarded to the officers involved at a HUNT board meeting in Harrisville on Friday.

Elsea collected more than $1.2 million from his drug and money laundering schemes, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Capt. Jennifer Johnson, Michigan State Police 7th District commander, on Friday presented several HUNT detectives with a citation from the district, praising them for providing the missing information to resolve a multi-year federal investigation.

According to police, Elsea, 44, was serving a life sentence for a 1996 murder when he rose through the ranks to become the state president of the Brotherhood Forever, a Tennessee-based white supremacist prison gang.

Elsea led the drug-trafficking organization from inside prison, using smuggled cell phones to conduct his business on the outside and orchestrating large-scale drug deals across the country.

Elsea used proceeds from meth sales to create illegal marijuana grow operations in multiple states, including the one in Alpena County.

Harvested marijuana was shipped south and sold in Tennessee, where the drug is not legal, police said. Proceeds from those sales funded further drug trade.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service began investigating Elsea in 2017, with police agencies from multiple states — including the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team — assisting as the investigation progressed.

Elsea deliberately targeted Alpena as a safe place to conduct one of his grow operations, said Lt. Kip Belcher, Michigan State Police task force section commander.

People caught running a drug trade in northern Michigan regularly tell police they thought taking their criminal activity north meant they wouldn’t get caught, Belcher said.

According to police, Elsea sent a girlfriend to Alpena County and funded the grow operation.

HUNT detectives surveilled the home where the grow operation was taking place, gathering enough information for several arrests.

That investigation, and testimony by a HUNT detective at a federal trial in Tennessee, also provided crucial information that helped federal agencies charge and convict Elsea, Belcher said.

Homeland Security anticipates more than 60 other arrests related to Elsea’s narcotics operation and points to the information obtained by HUNT as crucial in making those pending arrests possible, Johnson said, commending the HUNT officers for their work on Friday.

The lead prosecutor for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces — a federal drug enforcement program focused on dismantling the nation’s highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and criminal organizations — extended his “sincere appreciation” to HUNT for assisting the federal program in bringing a five-year investigation to a successful conclusion, Johnson said.

Other criminals believe Northeast Michigan a safe place for their criminal activity, as well, police say.

A HUNT detective, at Friday’s meeting, told the board about recent HUNT work that led to the Presque Isle County arrest of a woman known to police for at least a decade as a narcotics dealer.

Information from that arrest, and coordination with a separate undercover narcotics team, led to the discovery of a meth lab north of Onaway, the detective said.

Police also recently uncovered an Alpena County meth lab in which the operator extracted meth from urine.

Information about a man building illegal firearms to sell led to the discovery of the lab, where, police said, they found 40 pounds — or five gallons — of urine that tested positive for excreted meth.

Criminals consider Alpena safe for running drug operations because they believe that, in small and pleasant communities, residents will mind their own business, respect boundaries, and not notice suspicious behavior or report it to police, Belcher said.

Alpena residents think otherwise, he said, noting that many significant HUNT and other police arrests stem from tips.

“They’re not going to tolerate it,” Belcher said. “People respect boundaries up until the time when you’re creating a hazard for them with your criminal conduct. And then they’re going to report it.”


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