A man alleged to be one of the area’s most prolific drug traffickers in recent years has had all charges dropped against him in Haywood County.
Christopher Wayne Best was initially facing weapons and drug trafficking charges in Haywood after being arrested in December of 2016 and was potentially looking at over a decade in prison.
However, after skipping out on his trial and getting charged with a failure to appear in in June of 2017, he was picked up in Lula, Georgia, where he was also under investigation. At the time of his arrest there, he had 454 grams (about a pound) of methamphetamine, 14 MDMA (ecstasy) pills, a stolen rifle and about $1,000 cash on him.
When Best, who was known to pick up large amounts of meth in Atlanta to transport to Western North Carolina, was arrested in Georgia, Hall County Sheriff’s Lt. Don Scalia said Best had indeed been on their radar for quite some time.
“We’ve known about him for a while for sure,” Scalia said after that arrest.
Although rumors were initially swirling that Best was arrested following a routine traffic stop in Georgia, Scalia said officers had been moving in on him for some time.
“This was good old-fashioned police work,” he said. “It was everything from developing leads on the street to knocking on doors. It wasn’t a random traffic stop.”
Less than a year after his arrest, months after his conviction, Best was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison, after which he will be on supervised probation for eight years.
That conviction and active sentence was the reason District Attorney Ashley Welch’s office chose to dismiss all charges against Best, especially considering the office’s backlog of cases and how much it could cost to try him.
“We do have some other pretty serious matters that have been calendared already, and we’re not going to bump those,” Welch said after Best’s arrest in Georgia.
“We decided 15 years would be sufficient,” she said earlier this week. “We can always bring it back later, but you’re talking about 15 years in federal custody. He’s out of the community, and that was our goal all along.”
Welch said she had been working with the U.S. Attorney’s office out of Georgia to determine the resolution that worked best for both the state and the federal government. She added that it is a much more difficult process to get a federal inmate transferred to Haywood County to stand trial than it is a state inmate.
“Plus, it’s a safety issue,” she said.
Welch said that while no case is a sure thing, her office felt fairly confident it could secure a conviction on Best.
“There’s problems in every case,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t a slam dunk, but it wasn’t a bad case. That’s another thing we look at, is how strong is our case. It’s not the strongest I’ve ever seen, but we were ready to try him when he failed to appear.”