ROME — A Chickamauga man testified Thursday in federal court he and a cousin were told by a GBI agent during the Operation Meth Merchant investigation, “We are going to close those Indian stores down because they can’t speak good English.”

The statement was not heard on a tape played by prosecutors that included informants receiving instructions on how to conduct the investigation.

John Edward Ross was the only witness Thursday for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is seeking to have charges against defendants in Operation Meth Merchant dropped for selective prosecution. The hearing was held in U.S. District Court Thursday morning.

Forty-four of the 49 defendants in Operation Meth Merchant are of south Asian descent, and 33 defendants share the last name of Patel, according to court records. They are accused of selling the products used to make methamphetamine while believing the products would be used to make the drug.

Ross, 40, testified he drove his cousin, identified in testimony as John A. Ross, to the Famous Market in Flintstone in March 2004 to purchase cold pills that are often used to make meth.

Before the purchase, Ross and his cousin met with Dale Thomason, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office detective Alan Miles, Ross testified.

“Dale was giving John instructions,” Ross said. “He told him to be nice and to talk good to them. He told him to make sure he said something about a ‘cook.’

“Cook” refers to making methamphetamine.

The instructions could be heard on a tape of the conversation played in court by U.S. Assistant District Attorney Lisa Tarvin.

The comment “going to close those Indian stores” was not on the tape. Ross said the comment was made before the tape recording started.

Tarvin said during a meeting with prosecutors and ACLU attorneys on Monday, Ross never said anything about “the Indians speaking good English.”

Tarvin painted Ross as a convicted felon who “didn’t trust the system” and didn’t like people who cooperated with law enforcement.

“You said you thought it was wrong your cousin was participating,” Tarvin said. Ross agreed.

Ross is on probation for burglary, according to court testimony.

Judge Harold Murphy did not make a ruling Thursday. He rejected a motion from prosecutors to strike affidavits from John A. Ross and another witness. Both refused to testify at a hearing Monday. In their affidavits, the two claimed they were directed by law enforcement officials to target stores owned by south Asians and ignore white-owned stores.

Murphy ordered prosecutors to file a brief on whether the affidavits will be entered into the record by July 7.

Murphy said the claims of selective prosecution are not a defense to the charges.

“They are not saying they are not guilty,” Murphy said. “They are saying they have been treated unfairly.”

Thirty defendants have pleaded guilty. Eleven cases have been dropped, according to prosecutors.

Deepali Gokhale, an organizer for the Racial Justice Campaign Against Operation Meth Merchant, said she was pleased with what she heard in court Thursday.

“I’m hopeful it’s going to all work out,” she said.

Before the hearing, Gokhale delivered more than 1,000 letters to Tarvin she said were from individuals and organizations asking for the charges to be dropped.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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