Phone taps, crack cocaine: Evidence in Horry County gang bust revealed during bond hearing
Florence, S.C. (WPDE) —
An FBI agent involved in the bust of an alleged drug-dealing gang in Horry County last week revealed new details and evidence he collected during a bond hearing Monday.
Four of the 27 suspects were in court for their hearings, but Katelyn Stetler, Aaron Stanley and Rashea Jenerette temporarily waived their rights to hearings, but indicated they might return to court for new hearings in January. Jenerette and Stetler entered pleas of not guilty.
The fourth suspect, Donte Livingston, decided to go forward with his hearing.
During the hearing, the agent revealed that the investigation into the gang began three years ago, during a separate drug case. He said it didn't start really taking off until late 2017.
He said several methods of investigating were used, but the hearing focused on one in particular: phone wire taps.
The agent specifically mentioned three phones that were tapped: two belonging to Stanley, and one belonging to another suspect, Richard Hemingway.
He said Stanley's two phones were tapped for 30 and 60 days respectively starting on Aug. 31, 2018, and Hemingway's for 60 days starting one month later.
"I've listened to thousands of phone calls over the last three months," the agent told the court, saying Livingston was recorded talking about drugs or gang activity on eight separate occasions.
Prosecutors played recordings of two phone calls during the hearing.
The agent said the first, recorded on Nov. 8, 2018, was of Livingston and Hemingway talking. He said the audio, which was slightly muffled, was of Livingston briefly asking Hemingway for half of his stash of "glass."
The agent said "glass" usually means crystal meth, but in this case Livingston was talking about crack cocaine.
The second recording was made on Oct. 21, 2018. The agent said it was of Livingston talking to another man about people entering the neighborhood with guns.
The agent said it was possibly related to a debt someone owed, and said Livingston was recorded talking about retaliation against the individuals.
An agitated voice, which the agent identified as Livingston, was recorded saying, "If I had the drugs in me, I would have gone straight through."
The other side
Livingston's attorney and his girlfriend both spoke of the same explanation for Livingston's involvement: he was a rapper caught in the crossfire.
The attorney indicated that Livingston was walking down the street when he was arrested, and was not a known member of the gang.
He said Livingston was simply recorded talking about potential lyrics to his songs.
He argued in court that none of the recordings involving his client mentioned heroin or fentanyl, the two primary drugs investigators said the gang distributed.
He said further confusion was added because rappers, like gang members, often go by a single name to "protect their product."
"If they had a better tape, they'd play it for you," he said to the judge.
ABC 15 spoke to Livingston's girlfriend after court adjourned, who offered more insight into his defense.
DeAndra Stewart, who said she has been with Livingston for five years, said the recordings and other evidence that investigators may have had were simply part of Livingston's stories that he used for his job.
She said Livingston paid the bills using the money he earned, as well as provided for his siblings and bought them Christmas presents.
She said another portion of his earnings get donated to the after school program at the neighborhood community center.
"He changed my life," she said, explaining that Livingston "has the biggest heart."
She firmly said he was not involved in the gang prosecutors accused him of participating in.
Livingston's niece, sitting on the other side of our reporter, nodded her head at Stewart's statements. The other woman in the court room put her head in her lap while the phone recordings were being played.
Livingston was released on a $50,000 bond, and was subjected to GPS monitoring, drug tests and a number of other restrictions as conditions of his release.
After the judge made her ruling, he stood up and turned toward Stewart.
"I get to come home," he whispered, smiling.