Jacksonville, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Zachariah Ryan Luke (28, Bennettsville, South Carolina) today pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine. Luke faces minimum mandatory penalty of 10 years, up to life, in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
According to the plea agreement, in November 2021, Luke was serving a prison sentence in South Carolina for various offenses, including possession of methamphetamine. Using contraband cellphones, he communicated with an associate who assisted him with acquiring and selling illegal drugs, including methamphetamine. On November 24, 2021, from his South Carolina prison cell, Luke coordinated the delivery of approximately one kilogram of methamphetamine to a Florida-based drug dealer outside of a department store in South Carolina. After receiving the drugs, the dealer returned to Florida. In St. Augustine, Florida, a deputy observed a traffic offense and signaled the dealer to pull over. The dealer initially appeared to be looking for a place to stop, but instead accelerated and raced down the streets of a residential neighborhood. A police helicopter tracked the speeding car, and the pilot observed an object being thrown from the car and directed another deputy to that specific location. Following the directions of the pilot, the deputy found a backpack on the side of the road. Inside, the deputy found approximately 985.6 grams of crystal methamphetamine that laboratory testing would later show was 100% pure.
After attempting to dispose of the drugs, the dealer continued to drive, but eventually reached a dead end. He then abandoned the car to hide in a nearby wooded area but was located and arrested by deputies. After that arrest, corrections officers in South Carolina seized multiple cellphones from Luke, which he was prohibited from possessing in prison. Investigators searched those phones and recovered text communications concerning when, where, and from whom drugs were to be supplied and delivered.
This case was investigated by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the South Carolina Department of Corrections, the Aiken County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Office, the Aiken Department of Public Safety, the North Augusta (South Carolina) Department of Public Safety, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Coolican.