HOT SPRINGS -- A felon described as a "major player" in drug trafficking in Hot Springs and Garland County was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison Friday on felony charges after a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hot Springs.
Robert Arthur Blackstead Jr., 56, of Hot Springs was indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2019 on felony counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and pleaded guilty to the charges in September 2019, acting U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes said in a news release Friday.
In addition to the prison sentence, Blackstead must complete three years of supervised probation after his release.
According to the news release, in January 2019, investigators with the 18th Judicial District East Drug Task Force and agents with Homeland Security Investigations in Little Rock began an investigation into Blackstead's drug trafficking in the Western District of Arkansas.
Blackstead was "known to be a high-ranking official in the Aryan Brotherhood," Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence, who oversees the task force, said in an earlier news release.
Over the course of the investigation, investigators conducted three controlled purchases of meth from Blackstead, all involving "substantial quantities of meth," Lawrence said.
During his arrest Feb. 20, 2019, a search of his residence was conducted and three firearms, two sets of body armor, 41 grams of meth and numerous other narcotics and items of paraphernalia were found, she said.
Blackstead, who has multiple felony convictions and was on active parole at the time, was distributing large quantities of meth and firearms in Hot Springs and various areas in Garland County, Lawrence said.
Blackstead's arrest was part of "Operation Blue Sky," a multiagency sting the task force conducted targeting meth distribution. The operation ultimately resulted in the arrest of 32 suspects and the recovery of more than 4 pounds of meth.
Federal authorities assumed all the cases against Blackstead, who was considered a "major player" in the drug ring, deputy prosecutor Trent Daniels, the acting commander of the task force, told The Sentinel-Record in December 2019.
"Operation Blue Sky," named for the particularly potent strain of meth manufactured by the fictional characters Walter White and Jesse Pinkman on the television show "Breaking Bad," ultimately led back to meth distributors who had ties to a Mexican cartel.