Sheriff’s auction ends 2013 meth bust case

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The sale of 230 acres in Lamar County seized in one of the Pine Belt’s largest methamphetamine busts in history ended the last chapter of a 2013 court case that involved more than $1 million in forfeited property and fines.

Warren Lewis, who owned the land on Little Black Creek Road, was arrested in 2013 and sentenced as a major drug dealer after a 5½-pound brick of methamphetamine – with a reported street value of about $250,000 – was found in an ammo can hidden behind his residence.

After almost two decades of investigating and legal wrangling over how to distribute the forfeited property, the land sale was one of most unique auctions in the 15th Circuit Court’s recent history. In a public auction at the Lamar County Multi-Purpose Center on June 20, the land sold for $235,000.

“That was one of the few times that I have seen land seized in a drug deal,” District Attorney Hal Kittrell said Tuesday. “It’s not every day you acquire land. It’s usually something like cash, guns, cars … this was unique.”

The initial seizure involved 400-plus acres of land, weapons, vehicles, heavy machinery and almost $100,000 in cash. However, some of the initial forfeiture of property and items was returned to the family on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2016.

In the sheriff’s auction, the 230 acres was divided into six parcels and auctioned separately. After those were auctioned, the entire 230 acres was sold as one parcel. The land was sold to the person who bid on the entire 230 acres because it brought more than the total of the six individual parcels.

Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel said it wasn’t the first time the sheriff’s office had auctioned off forfeited land.

“It happened once before, but it was before I got here,” said Rigel, who has been Lamar County sheriff since 2003 and in the Hattiesburg Police Department for 20 years. “It’s easier to get rid of items than land.”

Rigel said two reasons for the $325,000 price on the land were the depreciation of the property because it has been vacant so long and its location in a rural area.

In the description of the property by National Land Realty, which handled the sale of the parcel, included on the land were 150 mature pecan trees that had been part of the Bass Pecan lands. A barn, an older residence and several outbuildings were located on the 230 acres. A creek also flowed through the land.

A cell tower on the property was bringing in revenue of $5,280 a year. 

Lewis was sentenced to more than 17 years in federal prison and fined $289,480. Lewis, 71, passed away Dec. 25, 2015.