Duplin County drug trafficker sentenced

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Jorge Zapata Castro, 52, of Duplin County, was sentenced April 5 to 18 years in federal prison for drug crimes.

He was convicted of possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine, brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a firearm by an immigrant said to be living in the country illegally.

A Duplin County sheriff’s deputy said he observed Zapata Castro leaving a known drug house on July 22, 2019, according to court documents and evidence presented in court.

“The deputy conducted a traffic stop after Zapata Castro crossed the center line multiple times in the area of North Carolina Highway 241 in Duplin County,” G. Norman Acker III, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said in a release. “Zapata Castro informed the deputy that he did not have a driver’s license. While the deputy was conducting his investigation, Zapata Castro fled at high rate of speed.

“During the chase that ensued, Zapata Castro leaned out of the window of his vehicle and pointed a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber handgun at the deputy. Then, Zapata Castro lost control and crashed his vehicle into a person’s yard at the intersection of Old N.C. (Highway) 24 and Wagon Ford Road,” the release stated. “Zapata Castro exited the vehicle and then pointed the Smith and Wesson at the deputy again before fleeing on foot.”

Prosecutors say Zapata Castro then stole a car from someone who was washing the car at a nearby home. Zapata Castro was ultimately apprehended in a bean field a short time later, according to court records.

“During a search of Zapata Castro deputies found a loaded handgun and methamphetamine,” according to the release. “Detectives also searched the truck that Zapata Castro had wrecked and found 34 grams of methamphetamine and $1,550 in U.S. currency. Zapata Castro was illegally in the country at the time of his arrest and had been previously deported therefore he was prohibited from possessing the handgun.”

The investigation was part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Operation “Fighting Jellyfish”. The task force operation aims to identify, disrupt and dismantle the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III gave Zapata Castro his sentence. The Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Department of Homeland Security, and the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Severo prosecuted the case.

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