CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee(WDEF) - The drug bust on Monday that resulted in 32 indictments is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fighting violent crime in Chattanooga.
Those 32 suspects would normally face state charges for their crimes which means they would likely serve a light sentence if convicted and be back on the streets relatively quick. But because federal prosecutors are now handling violent crimes in Chattanooga that are associated with illegal drugs and guns, some of those suspects may never see the light of day.
"If you were looking at 10 years to life on a drug felony but had previous drug felony you'd be looking at 20 years to life and if you had two previous drug felonies you'd be looking at a mandatory minimum of life," said federal prosecutor Chris Poole.
The latter means anyone convicted on drug or illegal gun charges who already had two or more serious felonies on their record would fall under the three strike rule; making them eligible for a mandatory life sentence.
Federal prosecutors are targeting the drug trade and illegal guns in Chattanooga because both are considered to be at the heart of the violence playing out in the streets. As part of the initiative to crack down on violent crimes, federal prosecutors are closely working with city police to determine which offenders are causing the most repeated violence.
"They are going to be moved to the head of the list as far as potential federal prosecution," Pool said.
And if convicted, they will be the ones who will serve very long sentences behind bars without the chance for an early parole. They will also not be eligible for probation.
Mayor Andy Berke said Monday's arrest of 32 of Chattanooga's worst criminals is just one step in his plan to ensure public safety.
"We're going to continue to go forward through a law enforcement angle but also through providing the support services that people need to get out of the lifestyle and truly make a difference in our community," Berke said.
Federal prosecutors are using every suspect who was captured on Monday as an example of what's expected if violent offenders think they will only have to deal with state charges and minor time behind bars.
"We're not trying to trick anyone. We want the word to get out that these penalties are there and they are strict and that if you violate the law, you could face these penalties," Pool said.