By TARA SCHMELZ
What started as an undercover cocaine buy in Jeffersonville turned into 21 people being charged in a cocaine trafficking ring, with the leader based out of Sellersburg. That leader, Jesse K. Bottoms Sr., 47, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in prison Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler, lead prosecutor in the case, said it started when an undercover operative purchased one ounce of cocaine from Bottoms in 2008. The investigation continued for two years, prior to charging 21 people, with nine of those from Clark and Floyd counties.
“We thought the investigation would be more successful if we could take away everyone involved, instead of one person who would be replaced the next day,” Minkler said.
Fifteen people have pleaded guilty, including Bottoms, and have been sentenced. Another three have filed petitions to enter a guilty plea and are awaiting sentencing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The evidence in this case was overwhelming,” Minkler said, explaining that is the reason behind the plea agreements.
Minkler said there were recorded phone conversations, drugs seized, officers who witnessed the drug deals and more.
“I’ve seen better cases, but not many,” Minkler said of the evidence.
A total of 10 ounces of cocaine, $82,000 in cash and 30 firearms, including two AR-15 assault rifles, were recovered during this investigation.
Minkler said Bottoms had to forfeit $37,568 once arrested and 80 percent of that will be given to local law enforcement. Minkler said it helps make the drug dealers pay for the investigation.
All but three defendants were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute five kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine. The remaining three people were Bottoms’ ex-wife, who lived with him, Nia Bottoms, 45, and his son Jesse Bottoms Jr., 22, both of Sellersburg, and Amber N. Tucker, 24, of Clarksville. Nia and Tucker were charged with one count of knowingly and intentionally using a communication facility to facilitate the commission of an act constituting a felony. Bottoms’ son was charged with one count of transferring a firearm, knowing that the firearm would be used in a drug trafficking crime.
Minkler said the arrests would not be possible without the help of many agencies, including the Jeffersonville Police Department, which started the investigation in 2008 with the undercover buy, and the other agencies who have helped since then: Charlestown Police Department, Clark County Sheriff’s Department, Clarksville Police Department, Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police, New Albany Police Department, Scottsburg Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation — Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, Internal Revenue Service — Criminal Investigation Division, Chicago FBI, Illinois State Police, Indianapolis FBI Safe Streets Gang Task Force, Louisville FBI, Louisville Metro Police Department, Seymour Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service.