Deadly drug taken off the street

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Yet another Detroit outlaw has been busted for selling large quantities of a drug that’s killed more than 400 people in Knox County over the past year, court records show.

Bennie Howard Randall, 33, is being held without bond in Blount County on federal charges of conspiring to distribute fentanyl and methamphetamine. He’s also accused of possessing a gun as a convicted felon and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

Randall, who is from Michigan, had been scheduled to have a detention hearing this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Poplin. On Tuesday, however, he waived his right to the hearing and Poplin ordered him to be held in custody pending trial.

His arrest was the result of a joint investigation “into a drug trafficking organization (“DTO”) involving individuals from Detroit, MI, distributing methamphetamine and fentanyl within the Eastern District of Tennessee,” according to a criminal complaint filed by FBI Agent James J. Doran III. 

Dozens of Detroit residents have been killed, injured or arrested themselves for killing and wounding other people on the streets of Knoxville and surrounding communities over the past few years. Many others have been arrested for trafficking in illegal drugs, primarily narcotic painkillers such as oxymorphone, heroin and fentanyl. 

Fentanyl is a highly potent narcotic painkiller used for decades in hospitals and chronic pain treatment. Because of its cost and strength, organized crime groups began cutting heroin with it several years ago, leading to tens of thousands of overdose deaths across the country.

Bennie Randall

In Knox County alone last year, 404 people died from overdoses, most of them involving fentanyl, according to the Knox County Regional Forensic Center.

The cost in human life is one reason that law enforcement has prioritized catching dealers. Local and state authorities can bring murder charges in some overdose cases, while federal prosecutors can ensure that dealers face similarly lengthy prison terms if they’re convicted simply of trafficking in the deadly narcotic.

The task force that nabbed Randall was comprised of agents from the 5th Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and other agencies.

As is normally the case in drug probes, the agents used confidential informants and one of those informants allegedly made four buys from a man known as “Jay” from April 21 to May 20. The buys, which were made in the Blount County community of Louisville at a Dollar General store and at “Jay’s” residence on Pearly Smith Road, added up to nine grams of fentanyl and five ounces of meth, according to the complaint filed by FBI Agent Doran.

In the early morning hours of a May 21 (shortly after the last buy) agents from the task force approached “Jay” while he was at a Pilot station near the Pearly Smith Road residence. “Jay”  was identified at that point as Randall and he allegedly gave permission for the agents to search his vehicle. They found marijuana, a bottle of the prescription anti-nausea drug promethazine, six tablets of oxycodone and approximately $4,824 in cash, Doran said. 

The agents then executed a search warrant at Randall’s home and allegedly found tens of thousands of dollars worth of illegal drugs, including 329 grams “of a mixture containing suspected fentanyl” and 232 grams of meth, according to Doran’s account. 

They also found 69 grams of MDMA (Ecstasy), six more bottles of promethazine and three loaded handguns as well as digital scales and other types of drug paraphernalia, Doran said. A review of Randall’s criminal history showed that he was a convicted felon and that he was currently wanted in Michigan.

Randall made his first appearance in federal court in Knoxville only hours after his arrest, where Assistant Federal Defender Jonathan Moffatt was appointed to represent him. 

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on May 26, 2021