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Three convicted in massive drug ring to smuggle marijuana to Charlotte

A federal jury in Charlotte on Friday convicted three Californians for their role in a drug ring that prosecutors say smuggled up to 40 tons of marijuana into the city.

Evelyn LaChapelle, 28, Natalia Wade, 30, and Corvain Cooper, 33, were found guilty after a four-day trial. All three face lengthy – and mandatory – prison sentences, along with millions of dollars in fines.

According to court records, the three were charged in January with conspiracy to traffic marijuana, conspiracy to money launder and rigging bank transactions to avoid reporting requirements. The jury in U.S. District Court in Charlotte convicted them on all charges.

Sentencing will occur at a later date. LaChapelle and Wade face between five and 40 years in prison on the trafficking charge, along with a $4 million fine. Because of a previous conviction and the amount of the drugs involved, Cooper faces from 20 years to life and a $20 million fine.

All three could receive up to 20 years in prison and a minimum $500,000 fine on the money-laundering conviction, and up to 10 years and $250,000 for attempting to hide their financial transactions. The three will remain in federal custody until sentencing.

The drug ring sent up to 80,000 pounds of pot to Charlotte, using overnight packages and commercial crate shipments, U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said. Millions of dollars were then funneled back to California.

The prosecution stems from an investigation by the area’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which has helped convict more than 50 people on marijuana trafficking, money-laundering and firearms violations over the past four years.

The investigation was a federal-city partnership involving Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta and the Carolinas and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. Some 16 state and local law enforcement agencies from North Carolina and California – including the Beverly Hills police – took part.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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