NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Law enforcement officials Tuesday announced the breakup of what they called a major drug ring in Arkansas with the arrests of 22 people in an investigation dubbed Operation Meilke Way.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Law enforcement officials Tuesday announced the breakup of what they called a major drug ring in Arkansas with the arrests of 22 people in an investigation dubbed Operation Meilke Way.

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer said the investigation, which began last March, targeted a large-scale drug trafficking organization distributing “multi-pound” quantities of methamphetamine in Central, North and Northeast Arkansas.

The methamphetamine was smuggled from Mexico to northern and central Arkansas for distribution in an operation that handled $500,000 worth of meth each month, Thyer said.

“We’ve shut down a major drug operation in Arkansas,” said the federal prosecutor, who was joined at a news conference by William J. Bryant, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arkansas, and North Little Rock Police Chief Danny Bradley.

“This operation took a significant amount of drugs off the streets,” Bryant said.

Law enforcement officers seized a little over 13 pounds of meth, seven vehicles, $163,590 in cash and five guns in the probe.

According to Thyer, the investigation also involved sheriff’s offices in Pulaski, Jefferson and Independence counties; city police agencies in Maumelle and Benton, the Arkansas State Police and the Arkansas National Guard.

Bryant said that in larger states, the drug operation set up in urban areas and distributed statewide. In Arkansas, the headquarters was in Batesville, he said. Thyer said the genesis of the operation was a traffic stop in North Little Rock in late 2010 in which a large quantity of methamphetamine was found.

Terry Wayne Green, 54, of Pleasant Plains, was arrested in that stop. A subsequent indictment had been sealed until Tuesday when a superseding indictment was disclosed. Green faces one count of conspiring to possess methamphetamine with intent to deliver and one count of possession.

The DEA became involved in March 2011. Thyer said the traffic stop of Green led to the arrests announced Tuesday. He identified the suspected ringleader in Arkansas as Jorge Rojas-Olivera, 27, of Batesville, who has been charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine mixture and two additional counts covering smaller amounts of the drug and witness-tampering.

Thyer said the namesake of the investigation is Michael Richard Meilke (pronounced “milky”), 38, of Bradford, who was charged with conspiring to possess methamphetamine, four counts of meth possession with intent to deliver, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a federal drug trafficking crime.

Thyer said the majority of the drugs involved were smuggled into the United States from Mexico to Rojas-Olivera.

From that point, the indictment alleges, Meilke distributed the drug at the rate of $18-$24 a pound. Each pound was broken into 454 grams, Bryant said, and sold on the street for around $100.

Sixteen of those accused were arrested, five were issued subpoenas to appear in court and one, Rhanda Rachael Ramey, 30, of North Little Rock was still being sought by authorities on one count of conspiracy and two counts of possession.

Thyer said five of the 22 are in the U.S. illegally. He declined to say whether any of those arrested had ties to organized crime in Mexico.

In September 2010, a similar operation was conducted in Jefferson County where 29 suspects, linked to drug trafficking, were arrested during Operation Hog Wild, a 19-month joint federal-state investigation.

During Operation Hog Wild round-up, undercover officers from the Tri-County Drug Task Force teamed with agents from the FBI and the DEA to identify “multi-ounce and kilogram dealers” of illegal drugs, authorities said.

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Bill Lawson writes for the North Little Rock Times and the Maumelle Monitor