The single largest heroin takedown in Northeast Ohio unfolded Sept. 18 with a lengthy indictment filed against dozens involved in a long-running local and national drug ring. In all, 92 men and women were named in the 203-count indictment. The charges span the gamut from heroin trafficking, most notably, to illegal possession of firearms and money laundering.
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 hit 200 by year’s end and outnumber homicides in the county. “The heroin epidemic is Cuyahoga County is real,” he said.
“Operation Fox Hound” tops off a two-year conspiracy across geographical boundaries, the narrative of which reads like a season of The Wire. In essence, heroin supplies were funneled north from Atlanta via mail or vehicle transport. Keith Ricks, Brandy Bates, Dammarkro Nolan, Maurice Golston, Dionte Thompson and Leamon Shephard are identified as noted leaders of the ring, reeling in product from down south and setting up a network of deals here in Northeast Ohio. (Chicago was similarly identified as a source for the drugs.)
Locally, as the ring deepened, the men and women involved used violent tactics to suppress competing dealers and stifle others’ supply. Many robbed other dealers and later sold the stolen heroin to further feed their own business.
“These defendants used firearms and violence to fund an operation that brought heroin and the death it causes from across the country into Greater Cleveland,” U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said.
He remarked on the brazen attitudes of many caught in the sting, noting that one individual even filmed a movie about the drug-related exploits. The glamor of the trade became a bit of an underlying theme among the indicted. Dettelbach offered a memorable coda to the bust: “The end.”
Likewise, McGinty summed up the message to those engaged in the drug trafficking business as only he can: “There’s a prison cell already built - the floor is painted, the stainless-steel toilet is installed - and it’s waiting for you.”
As of the late afternoon, 72 of those named in the indictment had been taken into custody. Federal investigators were actively seeking the remaining 20 throughout the day.
Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell 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, violence crimes took off at increased levels as young men and women vied for visibility.
“It’s going to happen, because it happened three years ago,” he said.
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.”
(Dr. Joan Papp, a MetroHealth Medical Center Emergency Room physician spoke to Scene earlier this year about the dramatic uptick in heroin overdoses: "We've noticed a lot more heroin users in the ER...And you're not seeing the lower rungs of society, you're seeing young, middle-class people from the suburbs.")
***(original story: 2:29 p.m.) At 3 p.m. today at the federal courthouse, local officials will be announcing the indictment of nearly 100 people for "heroin trafficking and related crimes." United States attorney Steven Dettelbach, Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson, police chief Michael McGrath, county prosecutor Tim McGinty, FBI special agent Stephen Anthony and others will be there.
Below is a copy of indictment likely to be announced at the press conference. It looks like a first batch of indictments came on September 11 but those were sealed until the rest could be carried out this morning. Scene will be there and we'll update the story as information comes in.