BY LEANN DILBECK –
The 2011 drug trafficking bust that ended a “hub” drug operation affecting two states and multiple counties may be reaching final closure. The alleged ringleader of the operation, James “Tinker” Combs, was arrested during the bust and according to Oklahoma District Attorney Mark Matloff, his legal maneuvering is nearing an end, “His days of freedom are numbered.”
Combs waived his right to a jury trial in McCurtain County District Court, Friday, September 13, in favor of a bench trial. Combs is represented by both an Oklahoma attorney, Allen R. Malone, and an Arkansas attorney, Danny Thrailkill. Malone filed two final motions in the case on Friday attempting to exclude videotapes of the search as well as to exclude evidence obtained by then Polk County Deputy Eddie Price, arguing that “Deputy Price was not authorized under Oklahoma law as an Oklahoma law enforcement officer. McCurtain County, Oklahoma has no formal written reciprocity agreement with Polk County, Arkansas.”
Matloff commended the work of law enforcement in this bust and spoke highly of their collaboration to bring down the “hub of a major drug trafficking operation…this was no small time operation.” Matloff said that while Combs has not yet been convicted, the elimination of his operation has “made a significant impact on the decrease of drugs in a multi-county area…no doubt about it.” McCurtain County seized Combs’ bar, home with 49.5 acres, and vehicles, all allegedly used in his trafficking operation.
Local officers from the Polk County Sheriff’s Department and the 18th West Judicial District Drug Task Force collaborated with the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Department, Hugo Police Department, the U.S. Forest Service, and the District 17 Oklahoma Drug Task Force in the surprise raid at the Kandlelite Bar in Watson, Oklahoma that was being used as a front for the drug trafficking operation.
Also seized in the bust were seven loaded guns, .357, 9mm, .45-handgun, and four 12-gauge shotguns along with marijuana and 66.5 grams of methamphetamine hidden throughout the bar…over three times the legal limit required to be charged with trafficking in the state of Oklahoma.
Combs, then age 72, was arrested on one count of Trafficking in Illegal Drugs and one count of Possession of Firearm During Commission of a Felony and will face, if convicted, a potential maximum sentence of life in prison.
The motion filed Friday is intended to exclude certain items allegedly found by Price in Combs’ clothing, including $12,305 in cash and two baggies of a crystal substance.
Combs’ was released on a $75,000 bond shortly after his arrest but Matloff said he is confident “a resolution is forthcoming and an end is in sight.”
Matloff said Combs waiving a jury trial in favor to be tried before a judge was no doubt strategic on his part, saying that traditionally judges are not as harsh in the sentencing phase. “Even if Combs doesn’t get life…at minimum, he’s looking at 15 to 20 years in prison and we’re talking about a nearly 75-year old man. His days of freedom are numbered.”
Matloff remains confident the state will present a case that will bring forth conviction but with current cases on the docket and upcoming holidays, he doesn’t expect the case to be heard until early 2014.