A Petersburg gang member who distributed 10,000 doses of opioids was sentenced Tuesday to more than a dozen years in federal prison, becoming the eighth associate of the High Society Hit Squad convicted in a two-year crackdown on drugs, firearms and violence in Petersburg.
“Gang members and associates of the High Society Hit Squad are responsible for pushing poison through the veins of that community, infecting their own and preying upon their neighbors,” said Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “In the midst of an opioid crisis, this gang thought nothing of pushing heroin and fentanyl to a community already on the brink, just to line their pockets.”
Miles Owanga Johnson, 39, better known as “Buck J,” became the latest member or associate of the High Society Hit Squad to be convicted in U.S. District Court in Richmond and sentenced to prison. Authorities said he conspired to distribute between 1 and 3 kilograms of heroin in Petersburg and elsewhere.
“Buck J was a major narcotics trafficker,” Terwilliger said during a news conference in downtown Richmond. “He trafficked over 10,000 separate doses of opioids — in theory enough to cause 10,000 deaths.”
“Most shocking, and frankly tragic and appalling, Buck J has over 36 adult convictions, over three dozen prior chances to turn it around and follow the law,” Terwilliger added. “This is someone who needed the attention of federal authorities, needed to be removed from society. And now, tragically, he will join some family members, as well as associates, in federal prison as part of this case.”
Terwilliger and other law enforcement officials used the occasion to publicize their ongoing efforts to dismantle a major drug and firearms trafficking gang that was a plague on Petersburg.
“The investigative efforts were driven towards the drivers of violence: the shooters, the armed drug traffickers,” said Ashan Benedict, special agent in charge of the Washington field office for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Benedict noted the collection of 60 firearms that were displayed on tables in front of him — weapons seized from gang members and associates during the investigation.
“These 60 firearms were not just possessed, they were discharged in our community in Petersburg,” Benedict said. “That’s important to note because these guns were shot in the streets where family and children were located. They were used to shoot into vehicles, they were used to shoot into occupied dwellings, in homicides, and assaults with intent to kill.”
The guns — as well as numerous rounds of ammunition — were seized in traffic stops and during the execution of search warrants from people legally prohibited from possessing firearms and suspects who used them during crimes, Benedict said.
“Where these guns originated from continues to be investigated,” Benedict said.
He added: “I expect more arrests to come.”
The other defendants convicted and sentenced for drug and/or firearm offenses are: Armon Lee, 26, of Warfield; Terrell Dean Johnson, 30, of Petersburg; Titus Maurice Lee, 44, of Petersburg; Autrelle Malik Waddell, 22, of Petersburg; Charles Lee Avery, 44, of Petersburg; Tyrell Jakahree Allen, 26, of Prince George County; and John Pruitte of Chesterfield County.
Four additional defendants await trial.
The cases involving the High Society Hit Squad — also referred to as H$2X — were developed as part of Project Safe Neighborhood, which is the centerpiece of the U.S. Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. Through the project, a variety of law enforcement stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them, authorities said.
The strategy focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders.
“We’ve made Petersburg a top priority,” Terwilliger said. “We’ve dedicated our finite resources to the Petersburg and Tri-Cities area in terms of manpower and prosecutions. We have a lot of work left to do.”
Terwilliger said Petersburg Police Chief Kenneth Miller asked for federal assistance, and originally the ATF and the Drug Enforcement Administration answered the call. Other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies joined in.
“Approximately seven months ago, 150 agents descended on Petersburg, and as Chief Miller so eloquently put it at the time, to liberate this city of these drug traffickers and sellers of misery. Many of those arrested have extensive criminal histories and have not been held accountable.”
Notwithstanding the grim reality of the violence and criminality spawned by the gang in his city of 32,000, Miller said the array of firearms seized and the people arrested “are not indicative of the true spirit of Petersburg.”
“We still have a lot more work to do,” Miller said. “But the accountability piece is here now, and we’re saying Petersburg is a community of change.”