Federal and local officials have busted a national heroin distribution ring after a one-year investigation, officials announced Friday at a press conference.
A federal grand jury returned a 23-count indictment on Wednesday charging 22 people with various offenses relating to a conspiracy to distribute large amounts of heroin and fentanyl in the Middle Tennessee area, northern Alabama and St. Louis, MO, according to David Rivera, U.S. Attorney for the Middle Tennessee District of Tennessee.
Much of the heroin had been adulterated or replaced with fentanyl and caused or contributed to the death of at least two people in Alabama and was responsible for multiple non-fatal overdoses.
Local, state and federal agents arrested 21 of the suspects named in the indictment. Darnell Finnels, aka Ski, aka Skeezy, 24, of Nashville, remains at large.
"The resurgence of heroin as the drug of choice is wreaking havoc in our communities across the nation and causing untold overdoses and deaths," said U.S. Attorney David Rivera. "I commend our law enforcement partners for their untiring efforts in bringing this case and interrupting the flow of such dangerous substances to our neighborhoods. The U.S. Attorney's Office will vigorously prosecute this case and seek appropriate sentences for the conduct of those charged."
The operation was a joint effort with Metro police, ATF and DEA involved.
According to the indictment, the year-long investigation identified Jamal Cooper, of Antioch, as one of the leaders and supervisors of the heroin distribution conspiracy and who was responsible for obtaining large quantities of heroin from multiple sources, including Lonald Ector of San Bernardino, CA, and Robert Gonzalez of Fontana, CA.
According to officials, various homes and properties in Nashville and Antioch, and Florence and Sheffield, AL, were used by the defendants to store heroin and cash generated from the sale and distribution of heroin, and from which to distribute heroin and fentanyl to the Middle Tennessee area, northern Alabama and St. Louis.
The indictment alleges that members of the conspiracy used cutting agents to dilute the heroin to increase their profits, and distributed fentanyl, which they said was heroin, which caused or contributed to two deaths in Alabama and numerous non-fatal overdoses in Alabama and Nashville.
According to the indictment, the defendants remained undeterred after learning of the deaths and overdoses and continued to distribute the heroin and fentanyl.
The indictment also alleges that four of the defendants conspired to use firearms against people whom they believed were attempting to rob other members of the conspiracy of money and drugs. One person was shot in Nashville on April 4.
"These heroin-related overdoses and deaths are absolutely unacceptable," said Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson. "Arrests like those announce today show that violent criminal activity associated with the illegal drug trade will not be tolerated by law enforcement and our partners in prosecutors' offices at the state and federal level."
"This focused investigation will have a lasting impact on reducing firearms-related violence and taking drugs off the streets of the Nashville Metro area," said ATF Special Agent-in-Charge Jeff Fulton. "Additionally, these arrests demonstrate ATF and our partners' continued dedication to identify, target and investigate violent criminals who lessen the quality of life in our neighborhoods."
"The prescription pill epidemic in the U.S. continues to produce a rapidly expanding base of new heroin users with no regard to race, gender, age, or economic background," said Michael Stanfill, assistant special agent-in-charge of the DEA in Tennessee. "Our federal, state and local partners will aggressively pursue those drug trafficking organizations that are attempting to capitalize on this new demand for heroin. This investigation is another example of law enforcement agencies working together and utilizing their combined resources to decimate a violent drug organization and improve the quality of life for people in Tennessee and Alabama."
The indictment charges the following individuals with conspiring to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin and/or fentanyl:
The indictment also charges the following:
If convicted, all defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to life in prison. Those charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl resulting in the death of another person face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
This case was investigated by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department's Specialized Investigations Division; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force; the Lauderdale County, AL, Drug Task Force; the Colbert County, AL, Drug Task Force and the Florence, AL, Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthias Onderak.
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