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Stockbridge couple enter pleas in federal court

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Elaine Rackley

erackley@henryherald.com

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer has pleaded guilty in federal district court to smuggling guns and drug money through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

CBP officer Devon Samuels, of Stockbridge, pleaded guilty, Thursday, to conspiring to launder drug money and attempting to smuggle guns onto an airplane. Samuels also plead guilty, along with his wife, Keisha Jones, to conspiring to commit marriage fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta.

Samuels, 45, was charged in connection with "Operation Rude Beast," the code name for a large-scale investigation into drug trafficking, on Dec. 16, 2010, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in a previous Henry Daily Herald article.

Jones, 30, a Delta employee, and Samuels were involved in a marriage fraud scheme, beginning in November 2009. Samuels used his knowledge of immigration policies to assist Carlton Ferguson, 35, and Dahlia McLaren, 30, both of Decatur, in deceiving U.S. immigration authorities into believing that Ferguson and McLaren's sham marriage was genuine, federal officials said.

Samuels, known as "Smokey," and Jones known as "Platinum," also were paid to falsely complete the immigration paperwork necessary for McLaren to obtain United States citizenship through her sham marriage to Ferguson.

Both Ferguson and McLaren have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, and await sentencing, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The sentencing of Samuels and Jones are scheduled for June 2, at 10:30 a.m., before United States District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr.

United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, "Our citizens expect the federal government and its agents to protect the borders, and not use their badges as a personal gateway for getting cash. In this case, a federal customs officer smuggled guns and drug money for people he thought were international narcotics traffickers. At about the same time, he and his wife were running a corrupt marriage business on the side. Such officers can expect to see federal prison."

Samuels pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to launder money, for which he could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $500,000. He also has pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to carry a weapon onto an aircraft, for which Samuels could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Samuels and Jones have each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit marriage fraud, for which they could receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Samuels, in November, was charged in connection with three undercover sting operations to smuggle alleged drug money, and guns, through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"That investigation led to unraveling a large-scale ecstasy trafficking organization and the seizure of over $2.8 million worth of ecstasy from a house in Chamblee -- one of the largest seizures in the country," according to previous, published reports.

On Nov. 3, 2010, an undercover officer, posing as a drug-money launderer, gave Samuels approximately $25,000 in money represented to be from the sale of drugs. With the assistance of others, and by unlawfully using his badge to bypass security and avoid screening, Samuels smuggled the money through Atlanta's airport to Jamaica. Once in Jamaica, Samuels delivered the money to a Jamaican undercover police officer, who was posing as an international drug trafficker, according to federal authorities.

On Nov. 19, 2010, Samuels accepted more than $50,000 in purported drug money from another undercover officer. Samuels then traveled from Atlanta to Jamaica, where he delivered the money to Jamaican undercover police officers. While in Atlanta's airport, he again unlawfully used his badge to bypass security and avoid being screened, authorities said.

On Nov. 30, 2010, Samuels accepted five firearms and approximately $20,000 in alleged drug money from an undercover police officer. Samuels smuggled the firearms and money into the airport by using his badge to bypass security, authorities said.

Once inside the airport, Samuels gave the firearms and money to a second undercover officer, who had told Samuels that she was going to transport the firearms and money to Arizona for a meeting with members of a Mexican drug cartel, according to federal authorities.