Recently filed and previously sealed court documents provide more details on the approximately four-year investigation that led to last week’s federal indictment and arrest of Billy Joe Rice on drug- and firearms-related charges.
Rice, 54, 108 Garland Road, Unicoi, was arrested June 13, one day after a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Rice with two counts of selling firearms to a prohibited person and one count each of selling firearms without a license, possession of stolen firearms, being a drug user in possession of a firearm and distribution of methamphetamine.
Rice’s arrest was the result of a joint investigation between the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Erwin Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. According to an application and affidavit documents written by ATF Special Agent Jamie Jenkins seeking search warrants for Rice’s home and his business, Joe’s Market on Unicoi Drive, investigators learned over the nearly four-year investigation that Rice had continually dealt firearms without a federal license and received and sold stolen firearms. The documents, which were filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on June 11 and unsealed Monday, also said Rice was a methamphetamine user and engaged in the distribution of methamphetamine.
According to Jenkins’ affidavit, he was contacted by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 21, 2008, in reference to Rice. The affidavit states that sheriff’s department detectives had told Jenkins that they had received information that Rice was buying and selling firearms from his store.
“Rice was identified by officers as a known fence and that he was buying stolen firearms taken in burglaries,” the affidavit said.
In his affidavit, Jenkins wrote that on Aug. 26, 2008, he conducted a Federal Firearms License check on Rice and his business and found no such license existed. The next day, an undercover ATF special agent purchased a firearm from Rice at Joe’s Market and observed guns that were not seen in the store during an investigational visit the prior week, the documents said.
On April 30, 2010, a county resident filed a report with the sheriff’s department regarding a burglary at his home. A .44-caliber handgun, among other items, was taken in the burglary, and Christopher Scott Brewer was developed as a suspect, Jenkins’ affidavit states. The court document said Brewer was later arrested and admitted to breaking into the home. He also told investigators he sold the gun to Rice at Joe’s Market, according to the affidavit.
The following day, sheriff’s department officials questioned Rice about the gun’s purchase and, according to the affidavit, Rice told investigators he had purchased the gun, which was turned over to the sheriff’s department. The affidavit said Rice was warned against purchasing items from Brewer in the future, as he was a suspect in other area burglaries.
The sheriff’s department conducted an undercover operation in which a confidential source was sent to Joe’s Market, the affidavit states. There, Rice agreed to sell the confidential source two firearms for $460 and give him a third in exchange for a chain saw previously provided to the source for trading purposes, according to the affidavit. The source, who was wired, asked Rice not to say anything about him buying guns due to not being able to legally purchase one, a request that Rice agreed to, according to court documents.
ATF special agents also conducted an undercover operation in which a confidential source negotiated the purchase of a rifle with Rice, the affidavit said.
Frank Rogers, then-investigator and current chief deputy with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, went to Rice’s store on Dec. 20, 2010, after receiving information that Rice had purchased a counterfeited silver bar, according to the affidavit. Court documents said Rogers was invited into the store’s office, where he observed several firearms, including an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.
On June 20, 2011, Rice told Washington County investigators that he had purchased a pair of chain saws and other items from Brewer, property which, according to the affidavit, had previously been reported as stolen out of Washington County.
The following week, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department received the report of a residential burglary in which a handgun and jewelry was taken, according to the affidavit. Corey Belcher, who was arrested and charged in the break-in, told officials that he had sold the stolen items to Ritchie Barnett at Joe’s Market, the affidavit states. Investigators went to Barnett’s home, where he was able to produce the stolen firearm. He said he purchased it in the parking lot of Joe’s Market, and was aware it had been stolen, court documents state. The affidavit also said he sold the stolen jewelry to Rice. Barnett was arrested and charged with possession of a stolen firearm.
The Erwin Police Department received the report of a burglary on North Elm Avenue in Erwin on April 4, court documents state. According to the documents, six firearms and other items were taken in the burglary, and Daniel Edwards and others were later arrested for their involvement. Investigators learned Edwards had traded the stolen firearms to Rice in exchange for a 1998 Ford Mustang, a transaction that Rice confirmed took place after being questioned, the affidavit said. The firearms used in the transactions were eventually recovered, according to Jenkins.
On May 14, the sheriff’s department conducted another undercover investigation involving Rice in which a confidential source previously convicted of a felony met with Rice at his home. According to the affidavit, the source told Rice he was prohibited from possessing a firearm and inquired about purchasing one. While Rice said he had no firearms to sell at that time, he and the source began discussing methamphetamine, at which point Rice told the source he would give him 2 grams of methamphetamine in exchange for boxes of pseudoephedrine, the affidavit states.
Three days later, Rice contacted the confidential source to advise that he had two handguns for sale, according to the affidavit. The source and an undercover deputy met with Rice at his home, were he allegedly sold the guns. Rice also offered the deputy and source a “hit” of methamphetamine, according to the affidavit. Rice also allegedly provided the source with a bag containing a small amount of methamphetamine, and Rice was observed in possession of two baggies containing methamphetamine and was observed smoking methamphetamine, according to court documents.
Investigators also learned of a connection between Rice and Carl Glass, who along with his wife and two others was arrested June 2 for allegedly engaging in drug activity by using the store he owned, the Valley Video and Trading Post on Unicoi Drive, as a front for cocaine distribution, according to court documents. On the date of Glass’ arrest, he was interviewed by Jenkins and Rogers. According to Jenkins’ affidavit, Glass told officials that he had purchased “user amounts” of methamphetamine from Rice on at least three occasions. He also stated that he had been purchasing 100 40-milligram Opana tablets from Rice per month for the previous five months for $1,000 per month, the document states.
Glass also told officials that he purchased firearms from Rice on “at least 10 occasions” and that Rice was aware he was a convicted felon, the affidavit states. Glass and others allegedly involved in his case are also facing federal charges.
On June 13, a warrant for Rice’s arrest was issued and executed at his residence. Rice appeared in U.S. District Court in Greeneville last Thursday, where he pleaded not guilty to all charges. At a detention hearing Friday, it was ordered that Rice be remanded to the custody of U.S. Marshals. A trial date in the case is set for Aug. 21.