MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal and tribal law enforcement authorities said Thursday they’ve taken down an interstate drug trafficking ring that was the largest source of heroin on two Minnesota American Indian reservations.
The 41 defendants named in the indictment unsealed Wednesday face charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and other drugs. Several also face firearms charges.
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said at a news conference Thursday that the ring was led by 37-year-old Omar Sharif Beasley. The arrests have shut down a major pipeline that spread heroin across the Red Lake and White Earth reservations, as well as Native American communities in North Dakota, Luger said.
“We didn’t want to just take down the head of the organization or the people bringing the heroin into the state of Minnesota,” Luger said. “We wanted to make it as difficult as possible for somebody to come in and pick up where this organization left off.”
The indictment alleges that Beasley recruited drug sources, managers, distributors, facilitators, couriers and drivers to bring heroin and other drugs to the reservations. It says the drugs came from Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and elsewhere.
Investigators tracked the ring for the past year and confiscated 2 kilograms of heroin, 1 kilogram of cocaine, hundreds of pills and numerous weapons, Luger said. The operation netted the traffickers millions of dollars, he said.
“With Beasley out of business, there will be less heroin sold in Minnesota,” he said.
Online court records don’t list an attorney for Beasley, who has been in the Anoka County Jail since his arrest last week, according to jail records. The defendants are making their initial appearances this week in federal court in St. Paul.
Tribal authorities who appeared with Luger said drug use on the reservations has become epidemic and is tearing families apart.
White Earth Public Safety Director Randy Goodwin called the ring “a criminal organization that prospered from poisoning many people on the White Earth Nation. Many lives, families and communities have been damaged or destroyed from this poison.”
Red Lake Public Safety Director William Brunelle said the indictment sends a clear message that drug trafficking will not be tolerated on reservations.
Heroin use is rising and causing more overdose deaths than at any time in the past decade, according to the National Heroin Threat Assessment released last week by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Deaths involving heroin more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, from 2,402 to 8,260.
“Beasley and the 40 other members of his organization believed that federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies throughout the region were not speaking with one another and connecting the dots. They were wrong,” said Dan Moren, special agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s office in the Twin Cities.