DOJ Seal

Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Western District of North Carolina

For Immediate Release

Friday, September 18, 2015
Jill Westmoreland Rose
, United States Attorney
Contact: Lia Bantavani

Federal Indictment Charges 16 with Narcotics Conspiracy Operating in Swain, Cherokee & Surrounding Counties

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A federal criminal indictment unsealed today in Asheville charges 16 men and women with narcotics conspiracy operating in Swain, Cherokee and surrounding counties, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Of the 16 defendants named in the indictment, 15 have been arrested by law enforcement. The indictment is the result of a joint federal, state and local investigation, targeting the distribution of methamphetamine in Western North Carolina.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rose is joined in making today’s announcement with Daniel R. Salter, Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which oversees the Charlotte District Office; Charles Addington, Deputy Associate Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Division of Drug Enforcement; C.J. Hyman, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Charlotte Field Division; Christopher Kuvlesky, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Atlantic Field Office, National Park Service, Investigative Services Branch; Colonel William J. Grey, Commander of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol; Sheriff Curtis A. Cochran of the Swain County Sheriff’s Office; Chief Ben Reed of the Cherokee Indian Police Department; Sheriff Robert L. Holland of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office; and Sheriff Danny Millsaps of the Graham County Sheriff’s Office.

In announcing the charges, Acting U.S. Attorney Rose said, “Drug dealers think they can operate under the radar in smaller, rural areas, and evade detection. They are wrong. We will partner with law enforcement agencies throughout Western North Carolina to protect all communities, large and small, and crackdown on drug traffickers that threaten the safety and well-being of the people living there.”

“The success of this investigation speaks to the continued dedication between our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in targeting and dismantling meth distribution rings that profit by spreading their poison in our communities. Strong partnerships such as this one underscore the power of our combined forces and demonstrate our collective impact on the war against meth,” said Special Agent in Charge Salter, with DEA’s Atlanta Field Division.

All defendants are charged with one count of engaging in a conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, with some facing additional drug and firearms violations. (Please see the attached chart for a list of all charges and penalties for each defendant). The 16 charged are:

  • James Dee Ball, 36, of Bryson City, N.C. (arrested)
  • Kelsie Marie Burch, 23, of Sylva, N.C. (not arrested yet)
  • Theresa Lorene Burns, 55, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Anna Marie Postell Cochran, 21, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Thomas Bart Cochran, 35, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Jeremiah Jerome Gibby, 35, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Hoke Benjamin Caleb Hayes, 24, of Hoschton, Georgia. (arrested in Georgia)
  • Bryan Keith Jenkins, 35, of Robbinsville, N.C. (in state custody)
  • Ray Chad Lequire, 34, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Amanda Brooke McKinney, 34, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Miranda Nations, 21, of Bryson City. (arrested)
  • Tammie Lynn Payne, 44, of Waynesville, N.C. (arrested)
  • Brandi Lynn Smith, 30, of Cleveland, Georgia. (arrested)
  • Gregory Daniel Steedly, 48, of Lawrenceville, Georgia. (arrested in Georgia)
  • Cain Hamilton Strickland, 34, of Atlanta, Georgia. (in state custody)
  • Sebern Todd Wyatt, 50, of Bryson City. (arrested)

According to allegations contained in the indictment, from about April 2013 to about July 2015, in Cherokee, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties, the defendants conspired with each other to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. According to court records and statements made in court, over the course of the investigation law enforcement recovered more than three pounds of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, approximately $43,000 in cash, 11 firearms, including semi-automatic pistols and rifles, and ammunition.

All defendants named in the indictment are in currently in custody, except Kelsie Marie Burch, who remains a fugitive.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rose thanked all the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation for their continued cooperation and assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Kent of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.

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Field Division: Charlotte Field Division