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Operation Cookout: 39 people accused of using Hampton Roads as a distribution point for heroin, fentanyl

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger announces the results of Operation Cookout in a news conference. (Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger announces the results of Operation Cookout in a news conference Thursday Aug. 29, 2019. (WYDaily)

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger stood alongside federal and local law enforcement officials from Newport News and Hampton to announce “a significant law enforcement action” at his office in Norfolk Thursday.

Over the last three days, 35 people have been arrested and indicted on 106 charges related to the trafficking and distribution of enough fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and cocaine base to kill everyone in Virginia and Maryland in what authorities tagged as “Operation Cookout.”

Law enforcement is still looking for four people: Jennifer Lynn Bing, Mark Christopher David, Parris Daevon McMillan, and Travis Oneal Walters.

“This massive interdiction of narcotics, which included enough fentanyl to kill over 14 million people, is proof positive of the power and strength of federal, state, and local law enforcement collaboration,” Terwilliger said.

Law enforcement from 30 agencies out of North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia seized 24 firearms, 30 kilograms of fentanyl, 30 kilograms of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine, and more than $700,000 in cash during the three-day “takedown.”

Terwilliger said the defendants had “specialized roles” in their drug distribution organizations like suppliers, packagers, transporters, distributors, and dealers.

According to the indictment, the 39 were involved in a large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy that began in March 2016.

“We attack organizations with our statutes because they have specialized roles which makes them that much more dangerous and that much more effective,” he said.

The 39 defendants had been using Hampton Roads as a point of distribution for narcotics they bought from Mexico, California, and New York, and fentanyl coming directly from China Terwilliger said.

“In one example detailed in the indictment, the defendant allegedly ordered fentanyl from a vendor in Shanghai and had it mailed through the U.S. Postal Service and delivered to a neighborhood in Newport News,” he said.

The indictment indicated the defendants would buy and receive the drugs from suppliers in Mexico, California, and New York, and would arrange for heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and cocaine base to be transported to and “within the Eastern District of Virginia using hidden traps in privately owned vehicles, couriers, and semi-trailers, trucks, and recreational vehicles.”

The conspiracy entailed the use of locations in Hampton Roads — houses and parking lots of businesses in Newport News, Hampton, Suffolk, Carrolton, Yorktown, Lawrenceville, South Hill, and Richmond.

Prosecutors said the suspects used prepaid cellphones, Facebook, and encrypted communications apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp to conduct the day-to-day operations, including negotiating prices, and arranging locations for buying and selling the drugs.

Terwilliger has said in past forums his priority is to focus federal attention and presence here after data from the DEA and other official intelligence agencies have shown fentanyl and opioids land in the Tidewater area first.

“This crisis is not an issue that is happening somewhere else or to someone else, it’s happening right here in Norfolk, on the Peninsula, Richmond, Alexandria, and in communities across the eastern district and the commonwealth,” he said Thursday.

RELATED STORY: U.S. Attorney talks opioid crisis in Virginia Beach

This operation serves as affirmation the strategic approach to “fish with a spear, and not a net” is working to dismantle narcotic distribution organizations from the top down, he said.

“This case is representative of all of our commitments not only to remove street-level dealers who are pushing these dangerous drugs into our communities but of our strategic approach to work our way up the distribution chain to sources of supply in Mexico and China,” Terwilliger said.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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