From Suzanne Mayes – 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office – Joseph Wade Bernier, a 42 year old Chapin man, has been sentenced to 21 years in prison following his guilty plea in Lexington County for Trafficking Methamphetamine, 10 to 28 grams, Second Offense. Bernier also pled guilty to Possession of a Weapon during a Violent Crime; Assault and Battery in the First Degree; and Pointing and Presenting a Firearm. Circuit Court Judge Debra R. McCaslin imposed a sentence of 18 years on the Trafficking Methamphetamine charge, with concurrent sentences for the remaining crimes. Bernier was also on probation at the time the trafficking narcotics offense was committed, resulting in a probation revocation with a sentence of three (3) years consecutive. Bernier has an active sentence of 21 years and is not eligible for parole under South Carolina law.
On the afternoon of July 13, 2021, officers with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD) responded to an individual inside of a vehicle outside of a home in Lexington County. The individual and sole occupant of the vehicle was identified as Joseph Bernier a/k/a “Big Joe.” Bernier was combative with both law enforcement and EMS on scene, and illegal narcotics were seen in plain view of Bernier’s vehicle. An assault rifle was also seen in the dash of the vehicle at the time of law enforcement’s arrival. The Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) responded with a search warrant for the vehicle. During the search, NET agents found 3 bags of methamphetamine, weighing over 124 grams, over 100 pills, $6,510.00 in cash, a handgun, and several ledgers documenting drug transactions between Bernier and other individuals.
Later, on July 26, 2021, Bernier approached three people who were walking down the road in the Gilbert area of Lexington County when Bernier approached them in a vehicle looking for an unknown individual. When the victims informed Bernier they did not know who he was asking for, Bernier became irate, grabbed an assault rifle, pointed it at all three victims, fired one round in their direction, and fled the scene. The Major Crimes Unit (MCU) with the Sheriff’s Department took over the investigation and were able to identify Bernier as the subject. A search warrant was issued for Bernier’s home and vehicle, and illegal narcotics were once again found. NET agents then responded with a search warrant for Bernier’s home and vehicle, finding a .357 revolver with an obliterated serial number; more than 20 grams of methamphetamine; more than 2 grams of heroin; digital scales; multiple rounds of ammunition in varying calibers; and marijuana.
Through a further investigation into Bernier, as well as interviews, NET determined that he had connections to a cartel in Mexico. Bernier admitted he began running kilograms worth of narcotics and firearms between Atlanta, Lexington, and Greenville for the cartel in early January 2021. Bernier further admitted that portions of narcotics from the cartel were brought back to Lexington County to sell. NET agents estimated the total value of the narcotics in Bernier’s possession for trafficking and sale would be in excess of $100,000.00.
Assistant Solicitor Kelly Oppenheimer prosecuted this case for the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office Drug Prosecution Unit. Multiple detectives with the Sheriff’s Department’s Major Crimes Unit and Narcotics Enforcement Team assisted in the successful prosecution of this case.
Following the sentence, 11th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Kelly Oppenheimer stated: “Law enforcement in Lexington County will not tolerate individuals trafficking large quantities of dangerous narcotics in our community. Authorities will continue to aggressively prosecute these cases until the drug pandemic in our county takes a significant turn.”