This man was busted by the ‘Sand Dragon.’ He’s facing life in prison

NORFOLK — A local man admitted Tuesday to trafficking heroin while armed.

Vernon Lewis Petway, 39, pleaded guilty in federal court to possession with intent to distribute heroin and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug-trafficking crime.

He faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of life. Petway is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 15.

According to court documents, Petway, a felon, was caught in possession of roughly 97 grams of heroin and a firearm after transporting the heroin by bus from New York City into Norfolk.

The case is part of “Operation Sand Dragon,” a joint operation run by the Norfolk Police Department with assistance from the DEA, ATF, Homeland Security Investigations and the Chesapeake Police Department.

After an 8-month-long investigation, authorities arrested 44 suspects for their roles in distributing drugs. Twelve of the suspects were involved in gang activity, which was a major focus of the investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

During the investigation, law enforcement recovered roughly 11 ounces of heroin, three pounds of cocaine, three pounds of marijuana, 24 ecstasy pills, and nine grams of methamphetamine.

Federal authorities said the total street value of the drugs was more than $190,000. Law enforcement also recovered 12 firearms and more than $85,000 in cash.

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John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.