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October 20, 2013Charlotte, NC, United StatesNarcotics

3 found guilty of shipping more than 35 tons of marijuana to N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte federal jury delivered guilty verdicts Friday against three defendants charged with marijuana trafficking conspiracy and related offenses following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced that Evelyn LaChapelle, 28, Natalia Wade, 30, and Corvain Cooper, 33, all from California, were convicted following a four-day trial before U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr.

According to court records, LaChapelle, Wade and Cooper were initially charged Jan. 15 with marijuana trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy in a multiple-defendant criminal bill of indictment. The indictment was later superseded to include a third charge of structuring financial transactions through banking institutions to avoid reporting requirements. According to evidence presented at trial, conspiracy participants shipped marijuana to the Charlotte area in commercial crate shipments and overnight packages. Trial evidence revealed that the conspiracy involved more than 35 tons of marijuana being shipped to Charlotte and millions of dollars of laundered proceeds funneled back to the sources of supply in California.

"The guilty verdicts found by the jury in this case were built on a strong foundation of cooperative law enforcement," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "The defendants in this case are guilty of running a massive marijuana trafficking operation, and they will have many years in federal prison to contemplate the consequences of the bad choices they have made."

Nicholson oversees HSI activities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

The jury convicted the defendants on all three charges. At sentencing, LaChapelle and Wade face a mandatory minimum of five and a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $4 million fine for the marijuana trafficking conspiracy charge. Because of his prior conviction and the drug weight for which he has been held liable, Cooper faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison and a $20 million fine for the same charge. All three defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy charge and the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property laundered as a monetary fine. For the structuring of financial transactions offense in a pattern exceeding $100,000 in a 12-month period, all three defendants face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This prosecution is part of an extensive Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that resulted in the conviction of more than 50 defendants for marijuana trafficking, money laundering and firearms violations during the past four years.

OCDETF is a joint federal, state and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking. It is the nation's primary tool to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations, target national and regional level drug trafficking organizations and coordinate the necessary law enforcement entities and resources.

The investigation was led by HSI and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, with the assistance of several other law enforcement agencies, to include the Gastonia Police Department, the Concord Police Department, the Mooresville Police Department, the Pineville Police Department, the Huntersville Police Department, the Kannapolis Police Department, the Cornelius Police Department, the Waxhaw Police Department, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Iredell County Sheriff's Office, the Union County Sheriff's Office, and the Beverly Hills and Culver City, Calif., police departments.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Charlotte prosecuted this case.