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yr of it is corroborated. The district attorney’s office says it has at least one drug deal on video tape. Task force Commander Bitz refused an interview request from the Observer. He also wouldn’t release copies of the search warrants executed in seizing evidence. In early September of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tyler chose 16 of the most egregious cases from the Palestine bust and indicted the suspects on various charges in federal court. Among the federal indictments are the four alleged ringleaders of the crack operation, including Riley King, who police believe brought crack to Anderson County from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. When authorities raided King’s house, they seized 600 grams of powdered cocaine, 266 grams of crack, a gun, and $7,000 in cash, according to a Justice Department spokesperson \(U.S. Attorney Allen Hurst, who’s pros Palestine, according to prosecutors, is home to an unusually large drug problem too. photo: Dave Mann ecuting the case in Tyler, refused to The remaining 56 suspects were left to the Anderson County district attorney to prosecute in state court. It seems unlikely that such a large number of crack dealers could thrive in rural Anderson County. Even in high-crime rural areas, only 0.3 percent of the population typically smokes crack, according to federal government studies. In Anderson County, with a population of about 54,000, that means roughly 160 people probably use crack. In Palestine itself, where prosecutors said 95 percent of the arrests were made, the average works out to about 70 crack smokers. That nearly matches the 72 alleged dealers nabbed in the drug sting. Nearly all of the 56 defendants in state court are charged with delivering less than four grams of crack, according to the county indictments. At least 14 of them have no prior felony convictions, and eight more have had a clean record for at least 10 years. For instance, 43-year-old Ira Mae Gross, who has a clean record in Anderson County, is charged with just one count of delivering between one and four grams of crack to Kimbrew last June, according to her indictment. She now faces a second-degree felony drug dealing charge that could earn her a prison sentence of two to 20 years. Many other suspects are seemingly longtime addicts. Henry Rhodes, Sr., 56, was convicted of possession of less than four grams of crack in 1995. He has no history of selling drugs, though. He was indicted on three counts of delivering crack to Kimbrew. Then there’s Charles E. Barrett, 45, who has a lone drug possession conviction from 1977. He too is facing one count of felony drug dealing for allegedly delivering less than a gram of crack to Kimbrew on June 22, 2004. Anderson County D.A. Doug Lowe defended the indictments. In an interview, he said that the county suffered from a serious drug problem, and that he was confident all the cases were solid. Lowe said the defendants indicted for delivering less than a gram of crack face state jail felonies, punishable by three months to two years in prison. Most of the 56 suspects indicted in Anderson County, however, face second-degree felony charges \(two to 20 charged with multiple counts of dealing crack, some defendants could wind up with decades-long jail sentences. Lowe added that three defendants had their charges upped to first-degree felony were allegedly part of a drug conspiracy. That means three defendants charged with dealing, at most, a few grams of crack could receive life sentences. Lowe added that he plans to take the first several defendants to trial, see what kind of sentences they get, and then offer plea bargains based on those sentences. “I’m hopeful that we can give the most serious of the dealers some serious time,” he said. After talking with the Observer for about 10 minutes, Lowe halted the phone interview, saying that he didn’t want to comment further without the case files in front of him. Lowe said he would call back shortly. He never did. He then didn’t respond to four subsequent phone messages left at his Palestine office. The number of suspects charged as dealers in Anderson County has attracted the attention of the ACLU, which has uncovered task force wrongdoing all over the state and is investigating the Palestine bust. Meanwhile, prosecutors and the Dogwood Trails task force will soon get the chance to prove that Palestine was so awash in crack that all 72 defendants really were legitimate dealers. The first trials are scheduled to begin in early December. 11/5/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11