Federal Jury Convicts Two Individuals for Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine and Heroin

Birmingham, Ala. – A federal jury today convicted two individuals for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, announced U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, and Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Hal Taylor.

The jury returned its guilty verdict against Isiah Thomas, 36, of Bessemer and Tavara Gissendanner, 36, of Newville after three days of testimony before Chief U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler. 

“This verdict serves as notice to every individual involved in illegal narcotics distribution,” Escalona said.  “My office remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who deal this deadly poison in our communities.”

“The success of this multi-faceted investigation would not have been possible without our ALEA partners and the assistance of the Alabama DOC,” Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer.  “Law enforcement partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels are key to ensuring public safety.  We are extremely proud to have been a part of the team of law enforcement professionals that brought these individuals to justice.”

Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Hal Taylor said, “This conviction demonstrates our continued determination and dedication to completely eliminate and end this horrible epidemic caused by drug trackers; that not only faces our state but the entire nation. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is fully committed to our partnership with federal and local law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of all Alabama citizens.”

Evidence at trial proved that in early 2019 Gissendanner directed a network of associates in trafficking quantities of narcotics – including heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl – and money across the state.  Gissendanner orchestrated the drug trafficking while in Alabama Department of Corrections custody, in part through the use of contraband cellular phones he obtained in prison.  One of his associates, Thomas, was arrested in April 2019 when he received a shipment of two kilograms of heroin and a drug press orchestrated by Gissendanner.  Investigators intercepted the shipment before it was delivered to Thomas and substituted the actual heroin with mock narcotics in similar packaging.  The intercepted heroin was worth an estimated $150,000.  Additional seizures in the case included quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin-fentanyl mixtures, and cash. 

The maximum penalty for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of over one kilogram or more of heroin is life in prison. 

The investigation was conducted by a multi-agency task force through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply. More information on the OCDETF program is available here: https://www.justice.gov/ocdetf/about-ocdetf.

Homeland Security Investigations and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency investigated the case with the assistance of the Alabama Department of Corrections.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Austin Shutt and Allison Garnett prosecuted the case.

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