CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A man described as being the "top of the chain" heroin trafficker with ties to Charleston has been sentenced to life, according to the U.S. Attorney District of South Carolina.
Kenneth Kennedy Shannon, 52, from Vance, South Carolina, was sentenced in federal court in Charleston by U.S. District Court Judge David Norton to life in prison without parole. Shannon was sentenced as a result of his conviction for his leadership as the source of supply in a conspiracy to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, a press release said.
United States Attorney Drake recognized the work of the Charleston Drug Enforcement Task Force, which is comprised of federal agents and task force officers from local Charleston area agencies, including the City of Charleston Police Department. "We are working with our state and local law enforcement partners to address the uptick in heroin distribution and opiate abuse. It is a public health crisis that has our full attention and deserves the full array of our enforcement tools including life sentences like that handed down by the court," Drake said.
Drake said that there is an effort underway to address heroin trafficking in the Charleston community. She advised that Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Kittrell prosecuted the case for sentencing and was the trial attorney along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Austin.
The sentence was a result of two factors. First, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Shannon was guilty and had distributed more than a kilogram of heroin during the life of the conspiracy, the press release said. Second, Shannon was a recidivist drug trafficker and had numerous previous drug convictions. Under federal law, the Court was required to sentence Shannon to life in prison.
Shannon's distribution network spread heroin from 2012 until his arrest on Feb. 28, 2014. According to Kittrell, a kilogram was a conservative estimate of the amount of heroin Shannon actually sold. On the streets, a kilo can be equated to 33,000 bags or doses of heroin, the press release said. Bags of heroin often sell for $20 to $25 which means that the street value, in this case, was between $666,666 and $833,333.
This particular investigation began after a series of overdoses affected the Charleston community. Over time, undercover buys were made and sources provided information. Surveillance was conducted. Agents eventually secured two wiretaps and Shannon was identified as the major source of supply. Investigators also learned that Shannon was bringing a load of heroin down by train from New York on Feb. 27, 2014. He got off the Amtrak in Kingstree, South Carolina and went to his stash house in Vance, South Carolina, the press release said. The next day, Shannon, drove to meet with one of his retail distributors. The DEA Task Force, working with the North Charleston Police Department, made a traffic stop on the Tahoe in which he was riding. Shannon, the passenger, was being driven by a close relative who had his 8-month-old grandchild in a car seat in the back of the SUV. After the driver got out of the vehicle to speak with police, Shannon jumped over the console into the driver's seat. He took off and led police on a high-speed chase, according to the release. That chase was called off as soon as police realized that there was a child in the car. While Shannon was fleeing from police, a citizen saw the driver of the Chevrolet Tahoe throw a baseball-sized bag out of the window near Tony Way. That citizen flagged down an alert North Charleston police officer involved in the chase. Assistant United States Attorney Sean Kittrell said that although the bag was run over by another vehicle, the officer was able to recover approximately two grams of heroin. Shannon also threw another package out on the ramp at Montague Avenue that was later recovered by DEA agents. The box held 500 blues bags of heroin. This was a marketing tool as customers regarded the heroin in the blue bags as a great product.
The task force learned where Shannon was and arrested him in the Tahoe later that same afternoon. The Tahoe had residue powder on the driver's side door, which Agents concluded came from throwing the baseball-sized bag of heroin out of the SUV. Because the baby was not in the car, the task force immediately began to attempt to ascertain the child's location. Once they learned the baby was safe, agents executed a search warrant on Shannon's stash house in Vance, South Carolina. Inside, agents recovered about 130 grams of heroin, a Krupp's coffee grinder with heroin residue along with two metal strainers, a digital scale, and a glass pestle, twelve small cardboard brown boxes, each holding about 600 unused individual "bindle" bags, a green grocery bag with many more "bindle" bags, two digital scales, a traffic citation issued to Kenneth Kennedy Shannon; and seven bars of Mannite "Cicogna" which is used as a cutting agent by heroin traffickers to increase the weight of drugs to create more product.
Shannon was indicted on federal charges and went to trial on July 27, 2016. During the trial, Shannon jumped up and started screaming at the court and the jury, a press release said. He had to be subdued by deputy U.S. Marshal and removed from the courtroom. After three days of trial, Shannon was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin, in violation of Title 21 of the United States Code.
"The Charleston community is deeply affected by the heroin problem. It is a devastating drug. Shannon was a major trafficker and a life sentence sends a message to other traffickers who bring this drug into our community. The DEA task force is dedicated to being a full partner with local and federal agencies, citizen advocacy groups, and all others who wish to stem the scourge of heroin in our community," Jason Sandoval, a Resident Agent in Charge of the local DEA office said.