JAWbreaker mastermind could stay behind bars until trial

James Steele has been in and out of jail since 2017. In 2018, he posted a $1.5 million bond and was required to wear an ankle monitor after being arrested as part of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office Operation JAWbreaker. 

Despite the hefty bond and constant monitoring, Steele has managed to rack up a half a dozen new charges since the 2018 arrest, always making bond a few hours later. After an August 3 arrest in Transylvania County, Steele’s luck may have finally run out.

Steele is one of three leaders of a well-organized narcotics trafficking operation that was dismantled in 2018. Operation JAWbreaker – an acronym for the organization’s leaders, James Steele, Arthur Potts, and Wade Ennis, was the result of months of undercover work and multiagency collaboration that saw 25 arrests for drug trafficking across Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia. 

When Steele was arrested last week in Transylvania County for felony possession of Methamphetamine and misdemeanor drug paraphernalia, he was also held on Failure to Appear charges from when he didn’t show up for his June court date in Macon County Superior Court. Because he skipped his last court date, Macon County District Attorney Ashley Welch has asked the courts to revoke his $1.5 million bond.

“Originally, we requested Mr. Steele’s bond be revoked in 2018 because he continued to commit (alleged) crimes, and the judge did revoke it, next setting a $1.5 million bond,” said Welch. “Mr. Steele’s bondsman chose to post that bond and as of June, Mr. Steele had absconded. Now we have a pending motion to have the latest bond revoked,” said Welch. 

Steele is scheduled to appear in court on his latest charges on August 27. 

Steele wasn’t the only member of JAWbreaker arrested last week in Transylvania County. 

Ennis was also booked into the detention center on felony charges of possession of methamphetamine, however Ennis was able to make bond and is scheduled to appear in Transylvania Court on August 27 and in Macon County on charges from Operation JAWbreaker in February 2021. 

According to Welch, the lengthy delay in a trial from the 2018 in Macon County for Steele, Ennis and the third member of JAWbreaker Arthur Potts, who has also been arrested multiple times since 2018, is largely due to the defendants right to counsel. 

“The defendants have requested continuances multiple times, changing defense attorneys in the process,” explained Welch. “Someone coming into the case cold has thousands and thousands of pages of discovery to digest.” 

In addition to the delay by changing legal counsel, Jury Trials in Macon County are currently delayed due to COVID19 – which has prevented any case to be tried in front of a jury since March. 

By Brittany Lofthouse

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