Small Town Rocked By 62 Drug Arrests
Apr. 12, 1993
WOODBURY, Ga. (AP) _ Few families in this rural Georgia town were left untouched by a federal investigation that culminated in the arrest of 62 people on charges of selling crack.
The accused sellers include a sheriff's deputy, a retired policeman and a 68-year-old woman recently released from prison after a drug-selling conviction.
Police said twice as many arrests would have been made in the town of 2,000 if the investigation hadn't been aimed narrowly at upper-level dealers.
Officials estimate peak sales in Woodbury at more than 20 pounds of crack a week. That translates to about $500,000 in sales in a town that doesn't have one fast-food franchise.
''The place was inundated with drugs,'' said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Roscoe Simmons, who supervised the undercover investigation. ''It was killing people, socially and economically.''
Renita Loveless opens up her beauty salon one night a week to residents who want to talk about how the arrests last month have affected this town 55 miles southwest of Atlanta.
''This is a small town; everybody's kin,'' Loveless said. ''It hurts to see so many friends and relatives all in jail.''
Alvin Owens, a truck driver, said drugs have ruined Woodbury.
''The boys wouldn't go to school. They were running up and down the street, filling up one pocket with drugs and the other with money,'' he said.
One of those arrested is Willie H. Harps, 53, a retired Woodbury policeman. He faces two charges of selling crack - the pebblelike, highly potent form of cocaine prepared for smoking - and two charges of using a minor to distribute drugs.
''It really hurt our family,'' said Louise Harps, his wife. Her 14-year-old son, 35-year old stepson and her 51-year-old brother-in-law were also arrested.
Mrs. Harps said her husband wasn't a drug dealer.
''If he'd been a big drug dealer, then everything we have would've been paid for,'' she said.
The drug network that penetrated Woodbury apparently was connected to a drug ring in south Florida, authorities said.
''This organization is very, very big,'' said Bart Ingram, special agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. ''Typically, they go in and take over a small town, using violence, intimidation, whatever it takes.''
For decades, many Woodbury residents have migrated to farms in Florida's Dade County for seasonal work. Some stayed in Florida and became involved in the drug trade there, Georgia investigators said.
Then, when they sought operatives they could trust and safer places to sell crack, they turned to their family and friends in Georgia.
Meriwether County Sheriff Dan Branch and Woodbury police Chief Gene Garner said they were aware of the problem, but couldn't do much about it without outside help.
''Everybody knows who works for me,'' Branch said. ''We can't just go in there and make a drug buy.''