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By Todd South
Chattanooga Times Free Press

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Police arrested 18 people on varied charges of crack cocaine possession, marijuana trafficking and related firearms violations in and around Bradley County on Thursday after months of work with an undercover informant and local, state and federal agencies.
Daryl Hill, special agent in charge in the Chattanooga office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the crackdown is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a teaming of local, state and federal agencies to pursue felony cases involving violent crime.
Mr. Hill said the seven-month investigation was regional in focus.
"These guys are tied to armed drug traffickers in and out of Hamilton County," he said.
The Bradley County Sheriff's Office, Cleveland police and the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force worked on Thursday's arrests.
The investigation focused on street-level crack cocaine dealers, using undercover informants to make multiple crack cocaine and marijuana buys. Some of the alleged dealers had firearms on them during the deals, which brings in ATF resources and federal charges.
Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble said the federal charges usually result in longer prison sentences, which help keep dealers off the streets. The threat of such charges may persuade suspects to share information that leads to higher-level traffickers, he said.
"State laws need to be toughened up in a lot of these areas, in my view," he said.
Once a large-scale investigation begins, an assistant district attorney often is assigned to the case, said Steven Bebb, district attorney for the 10th Judicial District. The district covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
"I've been involved in this business for a long time," he said. "Frankly, if you don't have that cooperation it's a sad day."
Sheriff Gobble said investigators solved 30 burglaries and thefts in Bradley, Meigs and Polk counties during the operation.
"So many drug habits and crime are driven through money from theft -- there's a direct connection," he said.
Sheriff Gobble said agency cooperation helps combat complicated criminal networks in many areas. He hopes the results will deter future crime.
"Like water, (criminals) will follow the path of least resistance," he said.

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