Feds tout new task force to fight opioid trafficking
Detroit — A team of federal, state and local crime fighters highlighted a new approach Tuesday to combating large-scale drug traffickers in southeast Michigan amid the nationwide opioid epidemic.
The new approach includes the formation of the Southeast Michigan Regional Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Strike Force, a multi-agency team cracking down on domestic cartel and violent street gangs blamed for an increase in overdose deaths across the region.
Since October 2017, members of the strike force have seized more than 35 kilograms of fentanyl, 25 kilograms of heroin, 50 kilograms of cocaine, 12 weapons and approximately $3 million in drug proceeds.
The amount of fentanyl, a powerful pain medication, is enough to kill 15 million people.
"Innocent people…are getting caught in the crossfire and getting hit and targeted in shootings as part of this gang and drug war," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said during a news conference in downtown Detroit. “We’ve come to the conclusion that while all of us are doing a good job working individually to fight gangs and drugs, our individual efforts were not as good as we wanted them to be.”
The strike force was formed 11 months ago after the Justice Department noticed domestic cartels and 140 violent street gangs were responsible for distributing Mexican-sourced heroin, fentanyl-laced heroin and pure fentanyl across the region.
“Drug trafficking and violence go hand-in-hand, which is why federal, state and local law enforcement are making these dangerous drug trafficking organizations a top priority," DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Plancon said in a statement. "We are focused on the current opioid epidemic, but this initiative is ready to adapt to any future drug threat facing southeast Michigan."
The group includes personnel from Homeland Security Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI and approximately 26 state, local and Canadian law enforcement agencies.
The multi-agency team, which includes embedded federal prosecutors, is focusing on busting the drug organizations, dismantling their finances and curbing violence and deaths linked to the drug rings.
This year, at least 93 people have died of drug overdoses in Wayne County and there have been 515 non-fatal overdoses.
Last year, more than 400 people died of drug overdoses in Detroit.
The strike force was formed three months after local investigators made one of the largest pure fentanyl seizures in U.S. history.
The News has written extensively about the bust at a Novi condominium that led to the seizure of 88 pounds of heroin and more than 10 kilograms of fentanyl. The bust started with a clue gleaned from a Sony PlayStation box.
The haul found at the Novi condo was the third-largest seizure of pure fentanyl in DEA history, outranked by the 11 kilos found near Seattle last year and 18 kilos near St. Louis, also last year.
Prosecutors have secured convictions of a horse groomer and a barber arrested inside the Novi drug den. Six other defendants are set for trial Nov. 13 in Detroit.
The status of other high-profile drug investigations remained unclear Tuesday.
That includes an investigation of Detroit rap label mogul Brian "Peanut "Brown, who a federal drug informant labeled one of the largest heroin dealers in the Midwest.
Brown, 49, a self-described "Hood Hero" who has his own YouTube reality show, also is responsible for selling heroin laced with fentanyl, according to a sealed federal search warrant affidavit obtained by The News.
Brown, a convicted drug felon, has not been charged with a new drug crime despite a three-year DEA investigation. Investigators have seized $550,000 in cash, eight kilograms of heroin and at least one kilogram of fentanyl.
Brown is head of BMB Records and was indicted in March 2016 on a gun charge, two years into the sprawling federal drug investigation.
He was released on bond and placed on house arrest with a GPS tether.
The gun case has been delayed repeatedly since The News wrote about Brown last year.