GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – Ronnie Lee Shelton, 43, and Brenda Lee Bolton, 46, both of Greeneville, Tenn., Eric Matthew Vance, 33, of Blountville, Tenn., and Geri Kim Ward, 33, of Church Hill, Tenn., were sentenced between August 18 and August 20, 2015, by the Honorable R. Leon Jordan, U.S. District Court Judge, to federal prison terms of 235 months, 95 months, 135 months and 78 months respectively. These sentences were a result of their roles in an extensive a-PVP (alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone) distribution conspiracy centered in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia and western North Carolina. Both Shelton and Vance were also convicted for possessing a firearm in furtherance of their a-PVP trafficking.
A-PVP is a synthetic drug, primarily ordered from China, which is commonly referred to on the street as “gravel” or “flakka.” Common effects on users include: extreme paranoia; hallucinations; elevated blood pressure; extremely high body temperature; excited delirium; staying awake for days; hostility and having exceptional strength without apparent fatigue. These are many of the characteristics of the drug that make it very dangerous for the user but also for law enforcement responding to people who are high on it. A-PVP has been referred to by users of the substance as “meth on steroids.”
According to the plea agreements signed and filed with the district court clerk’s office, the combined aggregate total of a-PVP stipulated to by Shelton, Bolton, Vance and Ward was approximately 37,000 grams. Shelton admitted to being accountable for 20,000 grams of that total. Shelton was initially arrested in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in January 2014, in a vehicle that contained approximately 530 grams of a-PVP and a loaded .40 caliber handgun. A few months later, in early May 2014, he escaped from the Greene County Jail. In numerous jail recorded conversations, Shelton conspired with several other people to plan the escape and admitted that he wanted to escape because he was facing a long sentence on federal gravel charges.
Vance was arrested in March 2014 after a hit and run incident in Unicoi County, Tenn. A subsequent search of Vance revealed a loaded .380 handgun and 11 baggies containing approximately 50 grams of a-PVP. Each was baggie was individually wrapped and had the names of individuals, dates and weights on them. Shelton, Bolton, Vance and Ward all made repeated trips to North Carolina to obtain a-PVP and transported it back to the Eastern District of Tennessee for resale.
Others who have been previously sentenced in this a-PVP trafficking investigation include Richard McNeal Hillman, Austin Michael Stallard, Johnny Michael Stallard, Desera Jade Allen, Phillip Wayne Mullins, Johnny White, Michael Ray Mangum and Evelyn Vickers, who were sentenced to serve 188 months, 121 months, 180 months, 151 months, 151 months, 120 months, 120 months and 110 months in federal prison respectively.
Law enforcement agencies participating in this investigation include the Drug Enforcement Administration; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Homeland Security Investigations, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, Kingsport Police Department, Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department, Johnson City Police Department, Greeneville, Tennessee Police Department, Hendersonville, North Carolina Police Department, and Scott County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office, all of which provided invaluable assistance during the course of the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor represented the United States.
Law enforcement investigations have revealed that A-PVP began to appear in the Eastern District of Tennessee as early as 2012 and federal, state and local law enforcement immediately joined forces to combat this growing problem. Studies have shown that it is one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs available anywhere. The seriousness of these offenses is further aggravated by the propensity of many individuals involved in the sale of a-PVP to carry and use firearms.