How a nearly decade-long drug ring involving black spring break promoter unraveled, agent testifies

Keith Brown and the federal courthouse in Gulfport, where he is scheduled to having a hearing Friday, March 4, 2018
Keith Brown and the federal courthouse in Gulfport, where he is scheduled to having a hearing Friday, March 4, 2018 Harrison County jail and Sun Herald file

To one federal agent, former Black Spring Break promoter Keith Lavell Brown is a major player in a drug-trafficking ring who allegedly arranged for drug couriers to bring large cocaine shipments into South Mississippi for distribution.

An investigation ultimately led authorities to identify Brown, 46, and a co-defendant as players in a drug-trafficking scheme that started in 2009 and continued through March 20, 2018.

The probe began when Harrison County authorities intercepted an 11-plus pound shipment of cocaine in an RV destined for Moss Point.

Soon after, he said, authorities learned another 11-plus pound shipment of marijuana made it without any detection to a home in Moss Point less than a month earlier. The owner of the home or his associates, DEA special agent Don Penny said, had known ties to Brown through telephone calls and other means.

The authorities were able to gather enough evidence for a federal grand jury to indict Brown on three federal charges for cocaine trafficking, officials announced Monday. In addition, the grand jury indicted a co-defendant, Jaycie Mario Thomas, 26, of Ocean Springs, on a charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in the same case.

Each man is facing a possible life sentence if convicted.

In testimony Tuesday, Penny described Thomas as someone known as as distant relative to Brown.

Brown, he said, allegedly used Thomas as a courier to bring his cocaine shipments into South Mississippi.

But luck ran out for Thomas in March 2016, Penny said, when Louisiana State Police stopped him in a BMW with 35 pounds of cocaine and loaded handgun inside. The stop was made at the foot of the Whiskey Bay Bridge in St. Martin Parish.

Penny said telephone records show relatives of Thomas reached out to Brown to check on Thomas.

That and other information came out Tuesday during a detention hearing for Thomas in federal court in Gulfport.

Thomas pleaded innocent to a federal drug distribution charge, but asked for a detention hearing to find out if he was eligible for bond.

After Penny and others testified about Thomas' continued marijuana use and his alleged work in the drug-trafficking trade, the judge denied him bond.

Among those who testified on behalf of Thomas was his wife and mother.

Both described him as a hard-working man who was devoted to his children. His wife said he was a maintenance supervisor who could fix anything and spent a lot of time caring for their children while she was away for work.

Thomas is set to go to trial in federal court on the court calendar beginning in June.

Brown, who returns to court Friday, has already been convicted in 1999 in an unrelated federal drug-trafficking case in the city of Scott involving marijuana distribution. In addition, Biloxi police arrested him last year on a warrant through Harrison County on charges of tax evasion.

Brown is not associated with this year's official Black Beach Weekend events at the Coast Coliseum from April 13-16.

Margaret Baker, 228-896-0538, @Margar45