Feds tout $8 million heroin bust as 'significant crush' to Atlanta's drug trade

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ATLANTA — As part of the largest heroin bust in Georgia history, federal agents said the arrest of a top Mexican cartel liaison will significantly hinder the flow of drugs in metro Atlanta.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and state prosecutors touted the arrest of Antonio DaShawn Daniels, 46, of Atlanta, as a “significant crush” to the Jalisco New General Cartel’s ability to smuggle heroin, cocaine and other drugs into the Southeast.

Daniels was arrested July 27 when agents raided several properties that he owned in “The Bluff,” a notorious segment of northwest Atlanta known for easy access to heroin. In total, about 375 pounds of heroin was intercepted, along with 22 pounds of cocaine, 20 pounds of marijuana, 41 firearms and $1.5 million in cash.

The drugs are estimated to be worth more than $8 million.

“This could permeate through any community in metro Atlanta, throughout the state of Georgia and beyond,” Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, said during a Wednesday news conference.

The investigation that led to the massive drug bust began last October, when agents made a series of seizures in Mexico. DEA Atlanta Special Agent Robert Murphy said investigators used information in those foreign operations to identify Daniels as a powerful player in the cartel’s drug trade.

Daniels, nicknamed “Freckleface Shawn,” was already familiar to federal law enforcement since he had served time for international drug trafficking. He was released from prison in 2007 after being convicted in 1998, records show.

“You usually don’t see that happen twice, where a drug dealer comes back out and (restarts) his activity after doing time in federal prison,” Murphy said, adding that his alleged repeat behavior will lead to additional legal consequences.

Agents accused Daniels of receiving more than 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) of cocaine between August 2018 and October 2019. In return, Daniels sent more than $31 million in drug proceeds back to the cartel, authorities said.

While the specific locations of Daniels’ alleged drug houses were not released, agents executed search warrants at a studio apartment and a home, both in Atlanta. WSB-TV reported that one of those locations was off Whitehall Street, which is only a few miles south of “The Bluff.” The English Avenue neighborhood has been notorious as an open-market drug bazaar since at least the 1980s, and it is often considered the heroin capital of the South.

“Several kilos would have been a huge seizure in the past,” Murphy said. “But this is 170 kilos. I can’t stress enough that this would be a huge seizure anywhere in the U.S.”

The massive amount of seized heroin consisted of brown heroin, which likely came from Colombia and Peru, and Mexican black tar heroin, Murphy said.

“That’s a ridiculous amount of heroin,” he said. “If you had asked me if there was a market for that much heroin in this place, I would have told you no, but I obviously was wrong.”

Daniels was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of possession of heroin, cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, U.S. Attorney BJay Pak said.

In addition, Daniels is suspected of other violent crimes in the Atlanta area, which will likely lead to local charges. Doraville’s police chief and a captain were also present at the news conference, but it’s unclear if Daniels is accused of crimes in their city.

Agents hope the arrest of one of the cartel’s top suppliers will do more than just stop the immediate flow of drugs. Murphy said it won’t be easy for the cartel to find a replacement, which could affect Southeastern drug trafficking for years.

“This is going to be a significant crush to that area — very significant,” he said. “You don’t just get contacts with Mexico that this individual had overnight.”

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