By: Rob Moore

Helen police officers are recovering guns, cash and drugs during Operation Winter Heat.

(HELEN) – Helen Police Chief Brian Stephens and his officers have a message for drug dealers: stay out of the Helen.

Despite the shutdown that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, Helen police officers have conducted Operation Winter Heat, a concentrated effort to take down the drug suppliers in the city. 

The operation started in the winter, building intelligence on the suppliers and the dealers, and subsequently netting nearly two dozen arrests. Only five of those were for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

“It was a very good operation,” said Helen Police Chief Brian Stephens. “We targeted the drug dealers coming into town that were supplying the local drug dealers. We’ve made some good arrests based off of it. The intel that we received from it is invaluable.”

Stephens said Winter Heat has resulted in seizure proceedings on several vehicles, weapons and cash.

“If we arrest you and you’re involved in narcotics and you have the drugs, we’re going to go after anything that you’ve gotten the items with drug money from selling drugs – vehicles, weapons, money – anything that you’ve got, we’re coming after,” Stephens said. “And we’ll take it to state level, we’ll take it to federal level. We’re going to shut you down. You need to stay out of the city of Helen.”

Two of the vehicles are specialty automobiles that are last year’s model.

“Right now, we have three vehicles under seizure,” Stephens said. “We have some weapons … and we also have some currency where we’ve started some seizure paperwork on.”

Federal authorities are working with Helen Police Department to prosecute the cases.

“Some of the cases that we’ve made, we’ve taken them to the federal level through the [Bureau of] Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and they have agreed to pick up the cases and that’s where we’re at now with those,” Stephens said. 

Stephens said officers are confident there would have been more arrests had the coronavirus pandemic shutdown not occurred.

“With this COVID-19 hitting, it’s kind of put a cramp in the middle of everything,” Stephens said. “We’re still out there, but of course the crowds aren’t with us as much now as they were, but we’re still hot and heavy on the dopers.”

As amusement operations and other businesses continue to reopen in Helen over the next couple of weeks, crowds are expected to increase.

Winter Heat continues and more arrests are expected. 

“We want to send a loud and clear message: If you deal or use drugs, stay out of Helen,” Stephens said.

Operation Winter Heat arrests

  • Dec. 19 – Brian Lowell Butler, 39, of Clermont – trafficking in illegal drugs, manufacture/distribution of marijuana, possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a felony, driving while license suspended or revoked, possession of amphetamine, possession of Schedule IV controlled substance, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute;
  • Dec. 23 – Tonya Lynn Peek, 44, of Helen – two counts of trafficking in illegal drugs, two counts of possession of amphetamine;
  • Dec. 23 – Kevin Dean Steverson, 48, of Helen – trafficking in illegal drugs, possession of amphetamine;
  • Jan. 3 – Levi D. Shook, 39, of Hiawassee – possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, use of a firearm by a convicted felon during commission of a felony, felony theft by receiving stolen property;
  • Jan. 6 – Antoinette Picciafoco Tour, 61, Helen – possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of methamphetamine, two counts of possession of Schedule 1 controlled substance;
  • Jan. 11 – Jonathan Scott Young, 35, Gainesville – sale of amphetamine;
  • Jan. 22 – William James Crane, 30, Alto – possession of amphetamine, possession of firearm or knife during the commission of a crime;
  • Jan. 27 – Robert Lee Hyman, 47, Helen – possession of methamphetamine, misdemeanor driving while license suspended or revoked;
  • Jan. 27 – Colleen Gay Hightower, 42, of Cleveland, criminal trespass, crossing guard lines with weapons, intoxicants or drugs; possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture/distribution of marijuana;
  • Jan. 27 – Chase Alden Barnard, 24, Cleveland – obstruction of law enforcement officers;
  • Feb. 2 – John Norwood Clark, 56, Sautee-Nacoochee – possession of methamphetamine, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana;
  • Feb. 8 – Darrien Patrick Ingram, 21, Gainesville – manufacture/distribution of marijuana;
  • Feb. 14 – Helen Marie Robinson, 58, of Cleveland – driving under the influence of drugs less safe, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, failure to maintain lane, windshield requirements, driving while unlicensed;
  • Feb. 21 – Douglas B. Eibe, 67, Helen – three counts of sale of amphetamine, possession of firearm or knife during the commission of a crime, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute;
  • Feb. 27 – Nikunjkumar P. Patel, 30, of Sautee-Nacoochee – misdemeanor possession of marijuana, driving under the influence, too fast for conditions;
  • March 13 – Gina Marie Sweeney, 30, Gainesville, possession and use of drug-related objects, possession of heroin, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute;
  • March 13 – Randy Alan Ramey, 26, Cleveland, possession and use of drug-related objects, possession of heroin, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute;
  • March 13 – Heather E. Moss, 30, Cleveland, possession and use of drug-related objects, possession of heroin, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

Several misdemeanor marijuana possession charges also resulted from Operation Winter Heat.