One of President Donald Trump’s top priorities is tackling the opioid drug addiction epidemic, and a big part of that effort is Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department taking down the organized crime rings that traffic and distribute the dangerous and deadly illicit drugs in the United States.
A significant win was scored on that front Thursday with the announcement that a massive multi-state operation led to the arrests of dozens of individuals suspected of being involved in a Virginia-based drug ring that trafficked large quantities of cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and other illegal drugs.
Authorities seized enough fentanyl to kill 14 million people and arrested 35 suspects. Four more indicted individuals are still on the run.
Massive drug bust
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, more than 120 agents and officers from over 30 law enforcement organizations at the federal, state, and local level took part in what was known as “Operation Cookout,” a major three-day, three-state operation that stemmed from a conspiracy investigation that began in March 2016.
Along with the arrests, authorities reportedly seized “24 firearms, 30 kilograms of fentanyl, 30 kilograms of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine, and over $700,000 in cash.”
Those who were arrested face a litany of charges including “conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, cocaine base, and fentanyl; conspiracy to launder money; felon in possession of a firearm; maintaining a drug-involved premises; use of a communication facility in furtherance of drug trafficking; interstate travel in aid of racketeering enterprises; and illegal re-entry by a previously deported or removed alien.”
The news release described a rather sophisticated drug trafficking operation that relied on a variety of communication and transportation options to acquire, transport, and distribute the illegal drugs in and around Virginia — options that were changed intermittently to throw off investigators.
The indicted individuals are all alleged to have been involved in a major drug-trafficking and distribution ring that would obtain the illegal drugs in Mexico, California, and New York and arrange for transfer to the operation’s home base in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. The co-conspirators were alleged to have engaged in “armed drug distribution” as well as performing other roles for the organization such as “supplier, packager, transporter, financier, distributor, and facilitator” of the illicit drugs.
Smuggling affects communities
“This massive interdiction of narcotics, which included enough fentanyl to kill over 14 million people, is proof positive of the power and strength of federal, state, and local law enforcement collaboration,” G. Zachery Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in the statement.
“This operation, through its seizure of scores of kilograms of illicit narcotics, saved lives in the Eastern District and elsewhere. Any day where we can do that is particularly meaningful and impactful,” the federal prosecutor added.
The origin of the illicit drugs appeared to be the chief concern for Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Michael K. Lamonea, who said, “The narcotics organization identified by our team reached far and wide, spanning state lines and crossing all the way to and from our southern border.”
“This indictment, and the 106 counts within, demonstrates clearly that the dangerous and illegal smuggling operations from the border limitlessly stretch into the United States and reach directly into our neighborhoods and communities,” he added.