ATHENS, Ga. – Seven defendants charged in various illegal firearm and high-volume drug cases admitted their guilt during change of plea hearings this week in Athens federal court.
The following defendants entered guilty pleas in separate cases on illegal gun charges before U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal on Wednesday: Anthony Holloway, 28, of Athens, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; Curioki Hyche, 32, of Athens, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; and Emilio Flentall, 31, of Athens, pleaded guilty to possession of a stolen firearm. All three defendants face a statutory penalty of ten years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for August 19, 2020. The following defendants entered guilty pleas on drug charges before Judge Royal on Wednesday: Justin Clouse, 38, of Watkinsville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to intent to distribute methamphetamine in excess of 50 grams and faces a minimum ten years to a maximum life term in prison; Maquilia Jones, 20, of Athens, pleaded guilty to distribution of crack cocaine and faces a minimum five years to a maximum forty years in prison; and Mechelle Morris, 45, of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and faces a minimum ten years to a maximum life term in prison. All three defendants will be sentenced on August 19, 2020. Rickshun Willingham, 33, of Athens, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin in excess of 100 grams, cocaine base in excess of 280 grams and methamphetamine in excess of 50 grams. Willingham faces a minimum ten years to life in prison. A sentencing date has not been scheduled. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Our office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to crack down on high-level drug cases and remove weapons from the hands of convicted felons. It is a priority of this office to decrease the illegal drug trade and violent crime across our district,” said Charlie Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “I want to thank our local, state and federal law enforcement partners for their commitment to making our communities safer for all residents.”
This gun cases are part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
The gun cases are also part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. For more information about Project Guardian, please see https://www.justice.gov/projectguardian.
All three gun cases were investigated by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. The North East Georgia Regional Drug Task Force also participated in the investigation of Hollway and Flentall. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Easterling is prosecuting the gun cases for the Government. The Willingham and Jones cases were investigated by the FBI, Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Georgia State Patrol and Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. The Morris case was investigated by the DEA, Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office, Tazewell Police Department, Tennessee, City of Middlesboro, Kentucky Police Department and the collaboration of District Attorney’s Office in Tazewell, Tennessee. The Clouse case was investigated by the DEA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamara Jarrett is prosecuting the drug cases for the Government. Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.