RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - A Wilmington gang member is that last of a drug trafficking ring sentenced to prison following an undercover operation by local and federal agents in 2017.
Joseph Anthony Vaught, 29, was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and possession a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
Vaught was the last of six men sentenced in connection with Operation Tourniquet.
Eugene Telphia Grady Jr., James Flowers, Sylvester Lorenzo Hooper Jr., Rufus Lamar Parker, and Victor Dorm have previously pleaded guilty and sentenced to prison. Each man received sentences ranging from 60 to 240 months.
In December 2016, officers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Wilmington Police Department began investigating gang and drug activity, specifically targeting Dorm, who was the leader of a subset of the Bloods street gang operating in Wilmington. Vaught was a lower ranking member of the gang.
Law enforcement was able to make approximately three dozen controlled purchases from the six co-defendants mentioned in this case, as well as five other men in separate federal cases. The agents purchased cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, counterfeit money, and multiple guns.
During the course of the investigation, ATF agents learned that Dorm and other members of his gang were conducting violent robberies in the area.
The ATF used that information to concoct a story about a fictitious cocaine stash house that was operated by a Mexican drug cartel. Agents then told Dorm about the fake stash house, saying that two armed men guarded eight to ten kilograms of cocaine in the house.
Dorm said his crew, including Vaught, were ready to rob the safe house.
On August 29, 2017, Vaught and co-defendant Sylvester Hooper met with several undercover agents who supposedly had access to the stash house. Both Vaught and Hooper were armed and confirmed they were ready to rob the house.
The two men were taken to a separate area where they believed cocaine for the stash house was being loaded, but a team of federal agents arrested the pair.
The Brunswick County and New Hanover County sheriff’s offices assisted the ATF and the Wilmington Police Department in the investigation.