A mid-level dealer in a national drug conspiracy last year was given at least two years in prison in McDowell County Superior Court.

Evan Saunders Lipford Jr., 40, of Rocky Ford Street in Morganton was found guilty of three counts of felony conspiracy to sell and deliver a controlled substance. For each count, he was sentenced to eight to 19 months (or 24 to 57 total months) in prison, with each judgment to run consecutive to one another. He was given credit for 178 days time served. He must pay a court-appointed attorney $3,387.50.

Starting in July 2016, an investigation began with a probe of activity at the 100 Stacy Farm Road residence of 36-year-old Jamie Leonard Tate.

Authorities alleged that Tate and 35-year-old Dwayne Bullock, of Newton, conspired with numerous people to traffic and distribute hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as lesser amounts of cocaine and heroin, with areas spanning between North Carolina and California.

On April 18, 2017, authorities began rounding up suspects in the conspiracy, raiding areas simultaneously in McDowell, Burke and Catawba counties, locations believed to be used for storing and distributing narcotics.

Seized during the initial raids were approximately 20 pounds of methamphetamine, an estimated $500,000 in cash, more than half a pound of marijuana, up to 4 ounces of fentanyl and other small amounts of pills, as well as firearms, cell phones and vehicles.

Over the next five months, at least 20 major players and mid-level drug dealers were apprehended locally and across the country in connection with the conspiracy. Lipford, one of the mid-level dealers, managed to elude authorities until Aug. 7, where he was arrested in Phoenix, Ariz.

Lipford’s sentencing marks one of the first convictions among the 20 arrested suspects. Between the two alleged ringleaders, Tate’s next appearance in court is June 11, while Bullock is currently in the indictment process.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.