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Inside the Biggest Heroin Bust in Northeast Ohio History

The documentary film crew, the Southern pipeline, and the brazen Cleveland kingpins



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When one of Meech's buys led Miller to call Leamon Shephard, he had them meet him at Red Line Towing, an auto shop owned by his father near the corner of Euclid Avenue and Lakeview Road. They waited in a car for 30 minutes or so until Shephard's red Chevy Tahoe arrived. They watched as Shephard got out and walked into Redline's garage. Customers who were previously waiting followed him in, stayed for a few minutes, and then got in their cars and left. This was Shephard's office.

Following Meech's surveillance and stakeouts of Redline Towing by federal agents, a judge signed off on a wiretap of Shephard's phone and gave investigators access to his previous texts.

Shephard was a busy man, arranging everything from $140 buys in the backseat of his Tahoe to pooling money for major deals down south.

Calls with men like Marcus Blue, the third of the eventual six ringleaders associated with the East 117th circle, brought more people into the investigation.

Blue didn't do small-time, hand-to-hand deals. He was a big money guy involved in large heroin purchases and owner of no small amount of debt owed to other dealers. On one recorded call, Shephard tells Blue to either resupply him with product or hand over cash to pay his debt. (In many cases, numbers used were done so interchangeably, either as the amount of money itself or the amount of money a quantity of heroin could be sold for.)

Jacob Derrickson, 25, and Beneditto Belfiore, 23, both users and dealers, bought from Shepard at Red Line Towing. One Nov. 9 call between Shepard and Derrickson illustrates how careful the suspects were even when talking about simply using heroin. The question was whether Derrickson injects his heroin with a needle or snorts it, but that question is never explicitly stated.

Shephard: "Hey, which way to you, which way to you, uh, which way do you take care of your business?"

Derrickson: "What do you mean?"

Shephard: "When you come to see me (to buy heroin), which way do you take care of your business (use heroin)?"

Derrickson: "Like South Euclid."

Shephard: "Oh my God, man, come on man. You can't really be serious, listen to what I'm tellin' you."

Derrickson: "I don't, I don't understand."

Shephard: "Listen to me. When you come see me, when you come holler at me, after you get what you get from me, how do you do what you do?"

Derrickson: "With a rig" (injection)

Shephard: "Alright. I need you to come holler at me right now. I need you to try something else."

In a December text, Leamon Shephard told Belfiore he had some strong heroin for sale—"I got fire". A few days later, Belfiore called to arrange a meeting at the shop. A few days after that, on Dec. 19, Derrickson sent text messages to Shephard that Belfiore just overdosed on heroin and nearly died.

Derrickson: "I slowed alottt if you couldn't tell after that shit went down with dummyditto"

Shephard: "Wat went down."

Derrickson: "U don't remember... he told u... he almost overdose."

Shephard: "Oh yea"

Derrickson: "Well he did overdose. I saved that niggas life gave him cpr."

Shephard: "That's crazy."

Derrickson: "And i shot him up with a suboxone."

Shephard: "That's crazy"

Derrickson: "He had no pulse his face paper white lips blue and shit was fucked up."

Shephard: "That's crazy"

Derrickson: "Insane"

Shephard: "I kno"

Derrickson: "Wears the thing is i shot more tha. 2x what did and barely got a rush at the same time."

Shephard: "He better chill."

Derrickson: "He don't know how. and he's broke and got no hustle game skills."

Shephard: "That's all bad."

Derrickson: "Lol. Shit between my work and my herb hustle i can make 2500$ a wk and he don't make that in 2 months."

Shephard: "He a be ok."

Heroin potency was a major issue for the buyers, suppliers and distributors that were tapped in the investigation (mostly because it was a major issue for their users who would call to complain they weren't getting high enough). When heroin supply was low in the city, the amount of cutting agents in the existing heroin increased. So much so, sometimes, that it was almost all fake heroin landing in users' bodies.

In one conversation taped by investigators, Thomas McCully and Frederick Ferrell, two distributors drawn into the Feds' web through Miller's phone tap,l go in-depth about the proper way to cut (dilute) heroin. When McCully talked about a customer upset with his cutting, Ferrell jokingly chided him: "All you had to do was have the right color, nigga. Put some dirt in it, goddamn, All that shit. All you had to do was be a little brown, that's all" (McCully's retort: "I know how to play this game. He will be back this way").

On January 3, 2013, Eugene Miller again went to Shephard's auto shop to get heroin for Meech. But Leamon Shephard, and Shephard's supplier Marcus Blue were out. But they wanted Miller's money any way, so they sold him a 24.19 gram package (a few grams short of an ounce) of fake heroin for $3,400. Miller sold that to Meech. They did it again a month later when a heroin shipment Blue was expecting was late coming in. When Blue wanted somebody to "burn"—grabbing some cash without exchanging real product— Shephard suggested running the scam on Miller.

The Kingpin Is Found and Everyone Loves Social Media

At the end of January, two calls placed on Shephard's tapped phone implicated three other major players in the East 117th circle: Maurice Golston, 33, Dionte Thompson, 25, and Keith Ricks, 31. Those three would join Maceo Moore, Shephard, and Blue as the main six targeted by the FBi, but it was.Ricks, they learned, who was the guy. The Federal indictment would be named United States of America vs. Ricks et. al., after all.

"Have you seen big bro?" Shephard said in a January 30 call to an East 117th associate, Maurice Golston, "You seen Keith?"

Golston didn't know where Keith Ricks was and Shephard needed to talk to him about something important. So he called Keith's little brother, Dionte Thompson.

Shephard: "You talked to your brother?

Thompson: "No, I think that nigga left."

Shephard was urgently trying to talk to Ricks about a courier who'd be bringing heroin from down south. Keith Ricks was in the Atlanta area, working on major deals to bring multi-kilogram loads of heroin back to Cleveland for distribution by any of the arms of the East 117th circle. He'd been doing that for awhile, apparently, sending product through the mail, having people drive it back and forth, or ferrying it on couriers on the bus.

By the time his name landed on a wiretap, he'd been flying regularly (first-class, according to his Twitter account), between Marietta, Georgia, and his mother's house on East 118th, where he would take care of business locally.

He was the big mind of the group with ideas that went beyond parochial beefs or boundaries. Ricks would organize other east Cleveland dealers to pool their money together for unified, large-scale purchases at wholesale prices down South and then distribute the product back home, dealers free to rake in bigger profits on the street level.

When Shephard (in Cleveland) connected with Ricks (in Atlanta) on the phone on Feb. 9, he needed to talk to him about an unreliable potential courier who wasn't calling him back about a trip to Atlanta he was supposed to take later that day. Shephard had another guy in mind who would be up for a job.

"Man, that nigga... man, you gotta holler at Soldier," Ricks told him. When Shephard agreed, Ricks told him to go get him. "Just call me and say 'yeah' and then I'll tell you what to do then."

Just 40 minutes later, Maurice Golston called Shephard. Golston had just picked up "Soldier" and put him on the phone with Shephard. After Soldier said "hello," Shephard got to the point: "Hey, you wanna take a trip?"

A few hours later, intercepted calls between Dionte Thompson and Shephard confirmed Soldier was on a Greyhound bus to Atlanta to pick up a package from Keith Ricks. Ricks then called Shephard to tell Soldier to call him from the bus station, and the two talked again when Ricks was late picking up Soldier in Atlanta (on Feb. 9, Ricks tweeted: "Fresh cut now time 2 link up wit my NY homies n these ATL streets..").

The task force later identified "Soldier" as Carl Willis by checking the passenger list for that Greyhound bus. Willis' Twitter location reads: "117th MoNey Team," and his bio is "i Ain't Have No Choice I Refuse to NOt GEt Dis MONey!!! iWas Forced."

On February 21, Willis used his Instagram account to post a selfie with a caption saying, "Back in the ghetto from the A on the morning side." The feds used that as further evidence against Ricks, Shephard, Golston and Thompson in their heroin ring conspiracy. Willis was not charged in the federal indictment.

Golston regularly issued all-caps posts on his Twitter account, StreetRees117, referencing his drug dealing ("TWO 8 BALLS NO DAYS OFF", "STARTED OFF WITH A BLOCK AND ENDED WITH THE NEIGHBORHOOD") while talking about how careful he is to not operate with informants or undercover cops ("I DON'T FUCK WITH NEW NIGGAS. AINT BOUT TO SLIDE UNDER ME AND BE MY CO-DEFENDANT.")

In February, less than a month before Tweeting about not letting a new person slide under him, Golston detailed to a criminal informant wearing a wire the specifics of his crew's heroin coming from Atlanta.

Keith Ricks' Twitter and Instagram accounts were apparently monitored by agents who used his posts to corroborate his whereabouts. In an FBI affidavit, an agent cites a Feb. 28 Instagram picture taken through the window of an airplane with the caption, "Even in the sky the sun stays shinning on me," and two Twitter posts from later that day: "Left the ghetto with a medal of honor & a fat bank roll," and then a couple hours later, "Home sweet home ATL drunk A.F."

Ricks used the username KeithvsMax for both accounts and doesn't use his real name in the profile, but there's no mistaking that it's him. He's interacted with with a since-deleted twitter account for Leamon Shephard (@juiceman117) dating back to when he signed up in Jan. 2011, and continued to interact with Maurice Golston (@StreetRees117) and Maceo Moore (@117chase), as well as posting when and where he travels, the things he buys, and his status:

• 3/5/2011: "Niggas wanna play that boss role on the streets, but play the snitch role when the white folks come."

• 10/30/2011: "Everytime the police picked me up, I never told them shit!" (a few days later: "Always live wit morals, principals & a purpose").

• 11/14/2011: "Feel so good 2 b bck home n Tha ATL, about 2 go jump n my bed!"

• 11/19/2011: "Tired of driving rentals, I think I'll treat my self 2 a Benz next week."

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