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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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• 11/22/2011: "Louie spread wit $1,000 sheets, how u sleeping" (instagram picture of his new bedroom).

• 2/9/2013: "Fresh cut now time 2 link up wit my NY homies n these ATL streets" (the same day intercepted calls have him arranging with Leamon Shephard to bring Soldier down as a courier).

• 3/8/2013: "Nigga talk ish until I send them boyz they way.. Do niggaz really want that Halo?"

• 3/9/ 2013: "My houses & companies speak 4 them selves, did it from the ground up... No regrets jus lessions!"

• 4/21/2013: "He got the police on his team so they watching me!!!"

• 4/24/2013: "Started n the ghetto now we worldwide"

Other than his public Twitter and Instagram accounts, perhaps there was a reason why it took so long to for Ricks to finally show up in the investigation. The phone numbers he used were never registered in his name and often he made calls using other people's phones. He often got rides from other people and the ever-changing list of cars he did drive were never under his name.

When investigators learned more about Ricks this spring, they put him under nearly constant surveillance. The court approved a wiretap of his phone on April 3; agents could listen in to every conversation and read every text. When Ricks was in Cleveland, he did business out of his mother's home on East 118th Street, so the FBI installed a camera facing the house that agents could monitor in real time.

That month, Ricks called Maceo Moore, asking for ideas of people he could rob. A few weeks earlier Moore burglarized the home of a big-money drug dealer named Dammarkro Nolan (in other court documents, his name is spelled Dammarko, Dammarkero, Demmarko, and other variations) in Painesville. Ricks wanted to know some wealthy dealers to rob.

Ricks: "For real man, I don't ask for much, Maceo. Man, I just need one favor from you man."

Moore: "What's that?"

Ricks: "Man, turn me on to something, man."

Moore: "A hoe?"

Ricks: "Nuh, nigga! Fuck a hoe. I got hoes."

The two agreed to meet later to talk. The task force later interviewed a criminal informant (referred to as "Source 9" in a search warrant affidavit) who knew about robberies and homicides involving Moore and Ricks going back to 2002, and some of which the source participated in resulted in homicides. In one robbery, they stole around $100,000.

The day before Ricks called Moore about finding a new target, RIcks called Marcus Blue to discuss a robbery target: "It ain't mission impossible, but it gonna be hard, bro." Blue suggested another guy that hung out at their barbershop named "Washington." Two days later, Ricks complained to Blue about a failed robbery attempt. A day later, Maurice Golston called Ricks, and Ricks told him that Maceo Moore missed a lot of valuables when he broke into Nolan's house a few weeks back: $60,000 and a mink coat, and a door behind a suit rack that had $730,000 inside.

In an intercepted phone call on April 23, Ricks talked with a woman about how he tried to be a legitimate business man instead of a drug supplier when he purchased a bar (he regularly Tweeted about running NuWay Lounge on East 170, a since-closed club); "Listen Lakia, when I bought that bar I stopped doing everything. I stopped doing everything illegal, man. I put my blood and sweat in that fucking bar. I wasted all my money, wasted all the money in that shit, man. I had to get myself back together" in the drug trade.

Weeks earlier, Ricks talked to a man named Keith Jones, a major figure in a separate heroin ring, complaining about how poorly things were going in Cleveland: "You don't understand I hate it up here (in Cleveland), man. I'm trying to hurry up and get everything together so I can come down there (to Atlanta), before I have to fuck anybody up."

At the end of April, Ricks was back down in Atlanta setting up deals. When Golston called, Ricks told him, "I'll see you, I'll see you real, real soon, and you gonna love me." Upon his return to Cleveland in May, and with a fresh supply of heroin couriered in a car that narrowly avoided detection by Medina cops, he sent out texts to his East 117th circle: Marcus Blue ("Yo come c me"), Shephard, Golston, and Moore ("Come through real quick," "Come holla at me, I got something I wanna show you," "Hurry up, they be jumpin!"). One by one, the task force watched them arrive at Ricks's mom's house on East 118th with the camera the FBI installed watching over it.

The Sweep

By this summer, the task force had spent two years on the investigation—two years signing up criminal informants, infiltrating the lives of drug distributors with undercover cops, spending tens of thousands of dollars in controlled drug buys, setting up surveillance bases, listening in on wiretapped cell phones, installing GPS trackers in cars, monitoring cameras, and the occasional tip off for the local authorities to make a traffic stop. They sat back and watched as money and heroin flowed in and out of eastside neighborhoods, observing the robberies and violence that comes with it.

In June, they began preparing to take down their main targets in the East 117th circle—Keith Ricks, Leamon Shephard, Maceo Moore, Maurice Golston, Marcus Blue and Dionte Thompson—by using their cellphone's location data gps monitoring of their cars (which could shut off their engines if needed) to figure out where they were for the best time to corral them up. The group of six went down on June 19, charged by a federal complaint to distribute heroin.

A search warrant of Keith Ricks' mom's house that morning found a loaded handgun (with a bullet in the chamber), scales with heroin residue, and more.  That house, at 499 East 118th, has since been torn down.

The FBI hit the house Maceo Moore was living in Euclid at the same time. They took handguns, a whole bunch of jewelry (including a "silver color necklace with jesus head"—a pendant of Jesus's head made out of diamonds—seen in several of his music videos and twitter posts), an automatic money counter, nearly $10,000 in cash, suspected heroin, Visa cards, pictures, titles to his dirtbikes. and "two DVDs of Moore's movies." A gold Cadillac and his Mercedes Benz CLS550, which he often took pictures of, were seized by feds as well.

Three months later, the investigation officially came to a close when arrest warrants went out for the remaining 86 people, including the 32 with state charges, in the middle of September. The US Marshals, FBI, and local police agencies made their sweep on on the morning of September 18.

That afternoon in the federal building, the figureheads of agencies involved—the Cleveland FBI, district attorney's office, mayors, police chiefs—announced the largest heroin bust in the history of Northeast Ohio.

Whether or not the bust and 92 indicted dealers, distributors and users makes a difference is yet to be seen. None of them have clean records; many have done time for drug trafficking in the past only to get right back into the game once out of prison.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty and others used sharp words to describe the violence committed by those involved, underscoring the seriousness of a heroin epidemic reaching unparalleled levels in this region. Heroin-related deaths are currently on pace to hit 200 by year's end and outnumber homicides in the county. "The heroin epidemic is Cuyahoga County is real," he said.

Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell, whose ward includes the East 117th St. intersection, lauded the efforts, but mentioned concerns about the vacuum left in his ward and other neighborhoods across the region. Following a 2010 bust, he noted, violent crimes took off at increased levels as young men and women vied for visibility. Those would be the folks detailed above.

"It's going to happen, because it happened three years ago," he said.

U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach replied by drawing in the need for cooperation from all fronts of the region—from local and state government to the community organizations that may boast more facetime with residents. "This is your problem; this is our problem," he said. "These are incremental steps that we take in this epidemic."

Three years from now, we'll see whether we're talking about a new largest heroin bust in Northeast Ohio history, or whether this one made an actual difference.

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