The Marlboro County Sheriff's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) formed a special task force in 2008 to solve gang related crimes and put a dent in the illegal drug activity in Marlboro County.
Since then, the Pee Dee Violent Crime Task Force has sent dozens to federal prison and solved a number of cases, including two homicides. Their sentences range from 6 to 35 years.
Earlier this year, the task force arrested 12 people in the Clio and McColl communities for drug related crimes.
Marlboro County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jamie Seales said he knew something had to be done in 2008, after a rash of violent crimes in the Shady Rest and Down West communities and a gang related homicide in the county.
"It kind of opened my eyes to what these guys were doing. That's when we started trying to learn as much as we could about them. Started working with the city and try to get as much old reports, as much information about these guys as they had," said Lt. Seales .
Seales said when they thought they had enough evidence on the gangs, they turned to the FBI for help.
FBI Special Agent In Charge David Thomas said he couldn't believe all of the crime that was happening in the Shady Rest and Down West communities.
"That community was basically in a lockdown. The residents couldn't come or go. The gangs so controlled our community. I've never seen anything like that in a long time. Where you had a gang that had a community completely in a lockdown. There were murders and drive-by shootings. Of course the number one goal of the FBI is terrorism, but if you go into Marlboro County and some of these areas and you asked them what the definition of terrorism is, they're going to tell you it's one of these gangs," said Agent Thomas.
Thomas said his agents worked hand in hand with the Marlboro County Sheriff's Office to solve the crimes.
"We're all about dismantle and disruption. That's what we do is identify the gang, work our way up to the leadership, and then start indicting and take off the head of the gang. And then we move to the next gang and the next gang. And that's sort of what we've done in 2008 in Marlboro County," explained Agent Thomas.
Lt. Seales said, "Cases that were dismissed in state court that we used in federal court. Where we would go back and gather more evidence to make the cases stronger."
He says the end result lead to dozens of federal convictions and a safer community.
"It helped the city of Bennettsville. But it also helped us because it bleeds over. I mean the county and city lines are so close together and here right here in Bennettsville. Those cases, cooperation from defendants in those cases rolled over into several others. We've done several other drug conspiracy cases. Some directly gang related and some indirectly since then," said Seales.
Agent Thomas said the FBI is willing to work with other law enforcement agencies in the state that are having problems with gangs and drug related crimes. He said they're looking at shifting resources to Horry County.
Thomas said, "We're actually working very closely right now with Chief Gall in Myrtle Beach and Horry County. They're starting to see some similar issues. As we put a lot of pressure on gangs in the Florence area, obviously they're gonna start moving out and moving away. And we want them to understand that we will continue. And we'll shift resources up into the Myrtle Beach area if we have to. To make sure that we don't just move the problem from one end of the state to the other. We want to eradicate the problem, if we can. You'll never make crime completely go away. But we want to make it as hard on them to do business as we possibly can."