WARREN - Crime pipelines from here to Detroit and other major cities took a hit Wednesday as law enforcement rounded up dozens of suspected drug dealers across the Mahoning Valley and elsewhere, officials said.
Warren police Chief Timothy Bowers said the sweep, dubbed "Operation: Little D-Town," was a major step in cleaning Warren's streets.
"It was a targeted effort coordinated among several law enforcement agencies designed to rid the city of crime," Bowers said.
Nineteen federal indictments were unsealed Wednesday charging 55 people - including a man accused in the Nov. 11, 2012, shooting death of Marco Dukes Sr. - with various violations of federal narcotics and weapons charges in Warren and the surrounding area. At the same time, 42 people were charged in state indictments.
Of those, 23 were arraigned in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. All had not guilty verdicts entered for them.
The indictments came after a yearlong undercover investigation that officials said targeted numerous drug-trafficking organizations in Warren, Youngstown and surrounding areas.
Trumbull County sheriff’s deputies lead some of those who were arrested in Wednesday’s massive crime sweep across High Street to their arraignments in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in Warren. Tribune Chronicle / Joe Gorman
Warren police, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, ATF Special Agent in Charge Robin Shoemaker and representatives of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Trumbull Ashtabula Group Task Force, Ohio BCI, and Youngstown police were on hand to offer some insight into the investigation at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Warren police station.
Dettelbach said there were simultaneous efforts in Detroit, Dayton and Pittsburgh to apprehend suspects in the local investigation.
He said law enforcement's top priorities were to get significant quantities of narcotics off the street, get firearms out of the hands of criminals and get the criminals off the streets.
"Nearly 100 warrants were unsealed today, and nearly 175 agents starting at the crack of dawn were out serving them," he said.
A news release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the indictments involve several conspiracies.
In the federal case against Valentino Thomas Sr., a 99-count indictment was filed charging 21 people with engaging in a conspiracy to distribute large quantities of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine.
The indictment states that Valentino (who also goes by Big Bear, Big Tino and Bro Bro) obtained drugs from suppliers in Detroit and then sold them to Anthony Ector (aka Q, Tony and Red), who in turn sold the drugs to at least 15 dealers in Warren.
As part of the conspiracy, Lewis Powell II of Warren is charged with 14 counts of illegally possessing firearms. Powell (aka L.C.) faces additional charges for having body armor and firearms with obliterated serial numbers, according the indictment.
Prosecutors are seeking to forfeit more than $31,000 and six firearms seized in that investigation.
In the federal case against Jamie Hancock, a 49-count indictment was filed charging nine people with engaging in a conspiracy to distribute heroin.
Hancock, Cornelius Butler III and Jovan Hancock purchased kilogram quantities of heroin from a supplier in Columbus and then sold the heroin to other dealers in Warren, Dayton and elsewhere, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are seeking to forfeit more than $54,000 and a Honda motorcycle seized in that investigation.
Ricky and Henry Walker, both of Warren, are charged with conspiracy to deal firearms. The Walkers operated a "flea market" in Warren and purchased firearms, then bartered with customers and sold firearms in exchange for items such as furniture, according to the indictment.
Officials said Henry Walker sold nine firearms to flea market customers in exchange for furniture and other property.
Antonio Tucker, 22, of Warren, is charged with six counts - three charges of distributing oxycodone or hydrocodone and three firearms charges: unlawfully distributing firearms, receiving stolen property or selling a stolen firearm, and having a firearm with an obliterated serial number.
Toni A. Angelo recruited mid-level drug dealers who would purchase large amounts of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine from the co-conspirators, the indictment states.
Officials said suspects would often use cell phones obtained in other people's names or fictitious names. The indictment states they would use slang terms, street terminology, or code words or phrases to obscure and disguise the true nature of their activities and meanings of their conversations.
For example, Angelo sent a text message which read "its got some soda," which the indictment states meant the crack cocaine has been cooked with some baking soda.
Margaret Devore and David Martin are charged with distributing oxycodone and heroin and possessing a Norinco SKS rifle, despite both having previous felony convictions.
Donta Murray is charged with distributing crack cocaine and possessing two shotguns, despite a previous felony conviction.
"The people who have been indicted here are people who everybody agrees should not be in the possession of firearms but still get them," Dettelbach said. "They are people who have already been convicted of crimes like domestic violence, drug possession, robbery and who are forbidden by law to have firearms."
A total of 155 firearms were confiscated in the investigation.
"These cases have taken an arsenal of firearms off the streets of Warren and cut off several pipelines of heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs," Dettelbach said. "It's yet another demonstration of what happens when federal and local law enforcement work together for the good of the public."
Most of the alleged crimes took place last year.
Officials have acknowledged that the pipeline from Detroit to Warren dates back years, spiking in the 1990s.
The connection came to the forefront again early Nov. 11 when 32-year-old Dukes was gunned down near downtown Warren. Peete, 22, who has addresses in Detroit and Warren, along with Dale A. Hatch, 25, are charged in Dukes' death. They are awaiting trial in that case.
On Wednesday, Bowers would not confirm whether Dukes' or Blackwell's killings were connected to Detroit, but said he hopes the indictments eliminate those types of violent acts.