Feds execute large-scale heroin crackdown in Detroit

Holly Fournier and Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies raided a number of locations along the Woodward corridor Tuesday morning as part of a large-scale heroin investigation that netted a dozen arrests, multiple firearms and a “significant amount” of narcotics.

Members of the FBI and local law enforcement raid a home on Goldengate in Detroit on Tuesday.

According to the FBI and Detroit police, the operation involved nine federal and four state search warrants targeting locations east of Woodward between McNichols Road and Eight Mile.

“The multi-jurisdictional investigation combats the recent violence and increased sale of heroin in the area, which has negatively impacted communities in Detroit and Oakland County,” the FBI said in a press release Tuesday morning. “Heroin continues to be a significant problem in our communities, leading to numerous deaths and overdoses.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig on Tuesday celebrated the multi-agency series of heroin raids, led by the FBI in Detroit.

“This morning, we launched a joint operation to attack the large scale distribution of heroin controlled by violent Detroit-based criminal organizations,” Craig said at a press conference Tuesday. “This operation was launched in response to the increase in sale of heroin. We had received a number of complaints with regards to narcotic activity, and this was our response to those complaints.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig shows a photograph of a setup kit used to smoke crack during a press conference at Detroit Police Headquarters.

Twelve people were arrested during the raids and various amounts of heroin, cocaine and marijuana were confiscated, Craig said. Officers also recovered nine firearms, including three AK-47s, one submachine gun and five handguns.

“When we take a gun off the street, we know that’s a gun that could be used in a violent crime,” Craig said.

Also during the raids, police issued seven citations for other offenses, Craig said.

The operation was conducted by special agents and law enforcement officers with the FBI Oakland County Gang and Violent Crime Task Force, the Detroit Violent Gang Task Force and the Detroit Violent Crime Task Force.

The operation consisted of the execution of nine federal and three state search warrants targeting the Woodward area on Tuesday.

More participating agencies included: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Enforcement and Removal Operations, Michigan State Police, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Southeast Oakland SWAT Team as well as the Detroit, Ferndale, and Royal Oak police departments.

Major Robert Smith of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said suburban and federal agencies participated because “crime and criminals don’t recognize boundaries.”

“Even though these locations were inside the parameters of Detroit, many of the customers, the vast majority, were coming from suburban communities,” he said. “So ultimately the drugs were coming back into our suburban communities, being redistributed and used. And that leads to crime.”

As part of the raids, officials targeted a Sunoco gas station at Eight Mile and John R roads, known for selling “ready kits” — paper bags holding syringes, lighters and filters, authorities said. The kits sell for $5, police said.

“It’s kind of brazen when you sell paraphernalia right in the locations that supposed to be a neighborhood gas station,” Craig said. “That’s absolutely not acceptable.”

Officials also raided a home on Goldengate near Woodward, just south of Seven Mile.

Resident Robert Pizzimenti, 53, said he was aware drugs, mostly crack cocaine, were being sold in his neighborhood.

“They were just trying to get by. They weren’t using drugs, just selling them,” said Pizzimenti, owner of Innate Healing and Goldengate Cafe on the corner.

Pizzimenti said the occupants of the house that was raided Tuesday morning all were younger than 20. The mother of one of the individuals lives down the street in a home that also was raided early Tuesday, he said.

“A big armored truck came down the street, and I heard windows shattering,” he said.

Detroiter Vincent Hayes, 52, approached the scene around 8 a.m. Tuesday during his daily walk.

“Right here, you can usually smell a heavy concentration of marijuana,” said Hayes, who lives less than a mile south of Woodward.

Hayes said he routinely sees drug traffic into the area from the suburbs, but he was surprised to hear Tuesday's raid targeted alleged heroin dealers.

“It’s a shock,” he said. “I never would have expected that over here in my neighborhood.”

But Hayes said he avoids going outside after dark.

“It’s really not safe for a grown person like me to be out here,” he said.

Craig said the raids were possible in part thanks to tips from the community.

“We always have the concern with retaliation. However, our community knows they can talk to our neighborhood police officers, certainly they can call (Crime Stoppers at) 1 (800) SPEAK-UP,” Craig said. “There are a number of ways they can communicate anonymously and they do that.”

Craig said the operation is ongoing.

“This should be a message to all those who initiate violent activity: We’re going to run you out of the city of Detroit,” he said. “Call them gangs, call them groups, or criminal enterprises. Bottom line, they’re not welcome here.”

In May, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against several people accused of distributing drugs that led to the deaths of three people, a criminal crackdown that follows a spike in overdoses caused by a fatal mix of heroin and the painkiller fentanyl.

Federal court records indicate the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration launched an investigation of an Ypsilanti-based drug ring in April following a surge in overdose deaths across Metro Detroit.

The charges follow the deaths this year of more than 60 people in Wayne and Washtenaw counties who took fatal doses of heroin and the powerful pain medication.

Nationwide, heroin overdoses tripled from 2010-13, according to the DEA.

In Oakland County, overdose deaths doubled from 2013-14.


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