District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said a Franklin man will spend 70 to 96 months in prison for his role in a two-state distribution of large quantities illegal drugs.
James “Jimmy” Steele, 47, pleaded guilty to continuing criminal enterprise, a class C felony. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bill Coward handed down the sentence Monday in Macon County Superior Court.
Steele’s plea comes as part of Operation Jawbreaker, a targeted investigation launched after the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation started investigating distribution of controlled substances.
They soon identified leaders of the drug ring: Steele and the late Wade Thomas Ennis of Highlands, who died in September 2020 of a heart attack. The investigation also led to the arrest of Arthur Scott Reynolds Potts, another suspected leader; his case is pending in Macon County Superior Court.
In all, more than 25 people were arrested as part of the operation.
Investigators say the drug-trafficking organization was responsible for the transport of controlled substances from the Atlanta area to Macon County and, from there, into other Western North Carolina counties, as well as North Georgia.
“Thanks to a lot of hard work and hours of investigation, the majority of players in Operation Jawbreaker have been convicted and sent to prison,” Welch said. “That’s a good outcome – not only for prosecutors and law enforcement, but for everyone who lives in and cares about this community.”
Assistant District Attorney John Hindsman Jr. prosecuted the case.