Crime

Coast man had an arsenal of weapons to protect his THC lab, grow room, agent testifies

A Harrison County man had an arsenal of weapons — nine of them loaded and one sitting in holster attached to the underside of a table — because he was “protecting his product,” a federal agent said.

The product Benjamin Joseph Butler, 38, was trying to protect was an assortment of illicit drugs, including high-grade marijuana he grew at his home, methamphetamine, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and THC oil he told authorities he bought from a connection in New Orleans.

That information and more came out when Wade Bryant, a Harrison County deputy assigned to work as agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified at Butler’s detention hearing last week in U.S. District Court.

Bryant was among the local, state and federal authorities who searched Butler’s home.

In addition to the drugs and firearms, authorities found a suspected THC lab that Butler was allegedly using to extract THC oil from marijuana. In addition, authorities believe he used the oil he bought to put in vape pens that he allegedly flavored himself.

After hearing evidence in the case, Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker denied Butler bond, pointing out he was already out of jail on bond on felony drug charge in Lafayette County. That arrest came, Bryant said, after authorities caught Butler with two pounds of marijuana.

In addition, the judge said he denied Butler bond because he is a flight risk now that he is facing federal drug and gun charges that could result in a life sentence.

The testimony

During this week’s hearing, Bryant talked about what authorities learned prior to the Oct. 18 search of Butler’s home on Moran Road in rural Harrison County.

The information came from audio and video surveillance footage of an undercover operative making four one-ounce purchases of marijuana from Butler.

In the footage, Butler can be seen grabbing marijuana from a safe that also had several guns inside it. He’s seen weighing the marijuana for the informant along with the cash exchange for the drugs.

The audio also recorded Butler talking about how he had to take action against someone who had done him wrong in the past. What that entailed, Bryant said, was Butler bragging about how he took a baseball bat and a rifle to the person’s home, and how it ended in an exchange of gunfire.

The search

When authorities searched the home, they found loaded firearms at all entry and exit points, another loaded handgun with an extended 30-round magazine sitting on a table next to a mason jar of weed, and another firearm in a holster hidden under the table.

Most of the guns, Bryant said, had been placed in close proximity to the drugs, and one of the AR-15-style rifles was sitting near a door and had a homemade silencer attached to it. Another suspected silencer sat nearby but was still under construction.

Authorities seized all of the firearms, nearly 2 1/2 pounds of marijuana, over 18 ounces of the hallucinogenic mushrooms, assortment of THC oil, vape pends and other drug paraphernalia.

Butler, dressed in a black and white prison jumpsuit last Tuesday, was mostly quiet but appeared agitated and tapped his leg up and down as he listened to how an undercover operative had managed to gather the evidence that could put him behind bars for life.

After Butler’s arrest, a DEA Hazardous Material team did a sweep of Butler’s home to ensure it was safe and free of any environmental threats from toxic chemicals.

The work that led to the arrest was the result of a joint investigation between the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, ATFE and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.
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