A series of heroin overdoses in Alexandria, Va., led to charges against 11 people in what local authorities are calling a “significant heroin-trafficking ring” in the D.C. region.
Prosecutors said more than a kilogram of heroin, with a street value of at least $1 million, passed through the group’s hands in the past year.
“Lives will be saved because they are no longer dealing,” Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) said at a news conference Monday. But, he added, “we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem.”
That problem is one that has bedeviled police and politicians across the country as opioid use continues to rise. In January alone there were 15 overdose deaths in Northern Virginia, along with more than 100 emergency room visits for overdoses. Virginia’s health commissioner last fall declared opioid addiction to be a public health emergency. Maryland made the same assessment this month.
Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said this case is so complex that “it will put a significant dent” in that city’s heroin market. Yet he acknowledged that the setback will likely be short-lived.
“The heroin trade is particularly a lucrative trade,” he said, and the amount of money involved brings guns and violence into the community along with drugs.
The suspects face charges of racketeering, drug possession and distribution. The majority were arrested March 11, but some of the charges date back a year.
This month, police with search warrants seized 10 firearms, 436 grams of heroin, 330 grams of cocaine, 19 grams of PCP and seven pounds of marijuana, plus vehicles and $18,000 in cash, officials said.
The suspects span the region and range in age from their 30s to their 60s. Lt. Col. Gary Settle of the Virginia State Police told reporters that community members and hospitals dealing with overdoses directed them to a common distributor in Maryland. Their investigation then led them back to Alexandria.
“These men and women were organized, they were part of a network responsible for trafficking thousands of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine throughout the region, heroin that came very close to costing people their lives,” Settle said.
Investigators do not know of anyone who died using the ring’s product.
In Alexandria, the arrestees were Robert E. Hunt, 54, Dwayne Mann, 56, Tony S. Mann, 55, Albert B. Taylor, 60, and Richard C. Williams Jr., 63. Jacqueline D. McBride, 61, was arrested in Virginia’s Fairfax County and 57-year-old Anthony D. Terry in Dumfries. Tony D. Smith, 31, came from Woodbridge, Va. Gregory Taylor, 43, and Tyrone Washington, 37, come from Fort Washington, Md. Ronald Morton, 39, was arrested in Clinton, Md.
Terry’s father said the 57-year-old had only recently been released from prison after several years and expressed disbelief that his son would want to get in trouble again. Family members of other suspects could not be reached or declined to comment.
All 11 suspects have been in front of a judge and appointed counsel, Porter said. They will be prosecuted in Alexandria Circuit Court, in concert with the attorney general’s office. The names of their lawyers could not immediately be learned.
The coordination between the two offices is novel, Porter said, as is the multi-jurisdictional police investigation — all part of a sweeping effort to tackle the sprawling opioid crisis.
Even as dealers are hammered with decades-long prison sentences, Herring said the state also needs to focus on addiction treatment and prevention for users.
“This is a real epidemic, and we have the power to bring it under control,” he said.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.