By Howard Ballou
WLBT news has learned that U.S. marshals have arrested two people in what is being described as the first case of terrorist charges filed in Mississippi. It is a case of two Americans allegedly willing to provide false identification to members of a foreign and dangerous terrorist organization in exchange for money and drugs.
Lamont Ranson and Cedric Carpenter made their initial appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court after being arrested last Friday. Ranson faces three counts: conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; conspiracy to defraud the united states and attempt to provide material support to terrorists. Carpenter faces those same charges plus possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute and criminal forfeiture.
Sources tell me dealmaking began on a cruise ship where Ranson and Carpenter, of New Orleans, bragged they had contacts here at the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol to get material needed to counterfeit drivers licenses and other identification.
They would do so, according to the charges, in exchange for a combination of cash and heroin. The fact that the false identification was destined for the Phillipine-based radical Islamic separatist group, Abu Sayyaf apparently didn't phase Ranson or Carpenter.
U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton says, "I can't say much about it now but there should be more court proceedings maybe as soon as Monday."
Lampton did say what Ranson and Carpenter did could have had a devistating impact on national security. "...That's why we were so interested in it and the information alleges they could abtain Mississippi drivers license, false documents that coudl be used by terrorists to enter the country; remain in the country; travel in the country and that is a very disturbing aspect and we've looked into it as thoroughly as we can."
If convicted of the charges, Lamont Ranson faces penalties and fines of up to 85 years in jail and 3-million dollars and Cedric Carpenter; up to 35 years begind bars and $750,000.
The Department of Homeland Security, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI all are involved in this investigation.