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Multistate Drug Trafficking Operation Ends with Guilty Pleas in Virginia


Five people pleaded guilty to various federal crimes involving a drug-trafficking operation in Virginia and North Carolina, according to an article by WAVY. This operation encompassed numerous drug crimes and other violations, and it primarily involved fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine.

This case was a result of Operation Cookout, a federal law enforcement endeavor in 2019 that resulted in:

  • Arrests of approximately 40 people;
  • Seizure of approximately 50 kilograms of heroin, 30 kilograms of fentanyl, and five kilograms of cocaine; and
  • Recovery of approximately 40 firearms and $1.3 million in cash.

Following the guilty pleas in question, a U.S. federal judge will determine the applicable penalties for each individual during sentencing hearings. In the meantime, it seems like a great opportunity to review the difference between drug-trafficking penalties at the federal and state levels.

U.S. Federal Penalties for Drug Trafficking

21 U.S. Code Section 841 establishes the federal penalties for drug-trafficking offenses. Depending on the circumstances of the drug-trafficking offense in question, the federal punishment can fluctuate greatly.

If drug trafficking involves a Schedule I/II controlled substance — such as fentanyl, heroin, or cocaine — it is a felony crime. The precise punishment is contingent upon the amount of the drug in question; for example, if the individual possessed:

  • Less than 500 grams of cocaine — The punishment is a maximum of 20 years in prison and $1 million in criminal fines;
  • At least 500 grams of cocaine — The punishment is five to 40 years in prison and up to $5 million in criminal fines; or
  • At least 5 kilograms of cocaine — The punishment is 10 years to life in prison and up to $10 million in criminal fines.

That being said, Section 841 does create separate penalty structures for certain types of drug-trafficking offenses. For example, the punishment is more severe for repeat offenders and offenses involving physical injury or death.

Furthermore, U.S. federal law considers an attempt or a conspiracy to commit drug trafficking the same as a completed crime. Stated otherwise, it does not matter if the crime is ultimately successful. Any person who attempts or conspires to commit drug trafficking will face criminal punishment under Section 841.

Virginia State Penalties for Drug Trafficking

Code of Virginia Section 18.2-248.01 provides the state penalties for drug trafficking offenses. As outlined below, the punishment for this offense largely depends on the number of previous offenses, if any:

  • First Conviction — Is a felony crime with a potential sentence of five to 40 years in prison and $1 million in criminal fines; or
  • Second or Subsequent Conviction — Is a felony crime with a potential sentence of 10 to 40 years in prison and $1 million in criminal fines.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you have legal questions about drug crimes at the U.S. federal or Virginia state level, it can be especially useful to reach out to a dependable Leesburg criminal defense lawyer. The lawyers at Simms Showers LLP are prepared to help you. Call us today for a consultation.



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