EAST LIVERPOOL — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine joined members of the Columbiana County Drug Task Force in East Liverpool today to announce details of a 756-count indictment filed against 100 people in connection with a large-scale fentanyl, carfentanil, heroin, and cocaine trafficking ring.
Authorities began serving arrest warrants as part of “Operation Big Oak” (Breaking Into Gangs/Opiate Addiction Knockdown) on Monday.
According to investigators, those accused of trafficking drugs as part of the drug trafficking organization are allegedly responsible for funneling the equivalent of approximately 1 million potentially fatal doses of carfentanil and approximately 350,000 potentially fatal doses of fentanyl into Columbiana County alone.
“The amount of fentanyl and carfentanil that this drug trafficking organization allegedly brought to this area was enough to kill every single person in Columbiana County, plus every man, woman, and child in 11 other nearby counties,” said Attorney General DeWine. “During the course of this investigation, an East Liverpool officer came in contact with a small amount of fentanyl and nearly died. That is how dangerous these drugs are, and that is why those charged as part of this investigation must be held accountable.”
The drug trafficking ring is alleged to have primarily operated between Cuyahoga and Columbiana counties since 2014. Three Cuyahoga County men, who are the alleged ringleaders of the operation, are accused of operating the drug ring as part of the “Down the Way” criminal street gang. The men are all facing multiple charges related to the trafficking of fentanyl and the trafficking of heroin and/or cocaine.
A fourth Cuyahoga County man, who was also identified as an alleged ringleader of the organization, is accused of trafficking carfentanil, fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine as part of the drug operation.
According to investigators, the four suspects allegedly sold the drugs to dozens of mid-level traffickers who then sold the drugs across Columbiana County.
A total of 51 alleged mid-level traffickers from Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Tuscarawas, and Mahoning counties are also facing one or more charges related to the trafficking of fentanyl, carfentanil, heroin, or cocaine.
Nine of the aforementioned suspects are charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a felony of the first degree, which carries a mandatory 11-year prison sentence upon conviction.
A full list of trafficking suspects in custody as of noon today can be found on the Attorney General’s website.
Forty-five lower-level suspects were also indicted after investigators found that they allegedly contributed to the actions of the drug trafficking organization.
Two suspects are charged with felony assault for allegedly exposing East Liverpool Police Officer Chris Green to fentanyl during a May 2017 traffic stop conducted as part of the investigation into this drug trafficking ring. Officer Green survived the exposure after being revived with four doses of naloxone.
The Columbiana County Drug Task Force and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agents working as part of Attorney General DeWine’s Heroin Unit investigated the case. The case is being prosecuted by special prosecutors with Attorney General DeWine’s Heroin Unit and Columbiana County Prosecutor Robert Herron.
The Columbiana County Drug Task Force is led by the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office and includes investigators from the Columbiana Police Department, East Liverpool Police Department, East Palestine Police Department, Lisbon Police Department, Liverpool Township Police Department, Salem Police Department, and Columbiana County Prosecutor’s Office.
In total, the 756-count indictment lists one or more of the following charges: engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, participating in a criminal gang, aggravated trafficking in drugs (fentanyl, carfentanil, or oxycodone), aggravated trafficking in heroin, trafficking in heroin, trafficking in heroin in the vicinity of a school, aggravated trafficking in cocaine, trafficking in cocaine, attempted trafficking in cocaine, trafficking in the vicinity of a juvenile, trafficking in marijuana, assault, corrupting another with drugs, having weapons under disability, permitting drug abuse, tampering with evidence, possession of cocaine, aggravated possession of drugs.
Authorities with the U.S. Marshals Service and Hancock County (W.Va.) Sheriff’s Office are assisting with serving arrest warrants on the 100 suspects charged as part of the investigation.
Attorney General DeWine created the Heroin Unit in 2013. The unit is made up of authorities from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), Special Prosecutions Section, and Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission who focus on assisting local authorities with investigating and prosecuting high-level drug traffickers in Ohio. The unit also includes education and outreach specialists from the Attorney General’s Office.
Local law enforcement agencies interested in receiving assistance from the Attorney General’s Heroin Unit should call 855-BCI-OHIO.