The investigation also turned up a cockfighting operation.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It wasn't just street-corner drug sales -- suburbanite dealers who came here for powdered cocaine took it back to Boardman, Poland, Austintown and Canfield.
They sold it "friend-to-friend" in private homes or trendy bars.
The out-of-towners bought from two drug trafficking rings that have operated, mostly on the East Side, for at least 10 years, members of the Mahoning Valley Drug Task Force said. The groups also catered to less-affluent city dealers by selling rocks of crack for street-corner customers.
"This was such a big case, I couldn't break it down, but I would say that the majority of the cocaine went to the suburbs," said Lt. Dave Allen, task force commander. "It always does."
As of this morning, 12 of 15 local men and women from the alleged drug rings had been arrested. A federal grand jury in Cleveland handed up a secret indictment last month and a judge unsealed it Wednesday against the local residents and three defendants who live in New York.
Charges include conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute and using telephones to facilitate drug trafficking.
Independent but linked: Youngstown Patrolman Robert Patton said the two rings acted independently but had "mutual associations" and were aware of each other's comings and goings. He said the investigation continues, with another indictment in the works that will identify 10 to 20 more defendants, mostly from this area.
Task force members who spoke to The Vindicator were careful to not provide more information than what was in a press release issued by Sharon L. Long and Cynthia Westcott Rice, assistant U.S. attorneys.
Nearly half of the local defendants moved here from New York for the purpose of setting up a drug operation, Patton said. The task force, he said, started to aggressively target the two groups in late 1998 when reliable sources agreed to cooperate with police, infiltrate the rings and make drug buys.
Undercover operation: Allen said his group worked the investigation for roughly 1,200 to 1,500 hours, some of it devoted to wiretap surveillance. The cost of undercover drug buys was about $30,000, he said.
The hours don't take into account what the FBI put into the operation, he said, noting that FBI Special Agent Jim McCann and Deputy Jeff Allen of the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department served as case agents.
"We were always on call," said Deputy Jeff Arnaut. "Weekends, holidays -- when we got the call, we went."
Couriers who traveled weekly to New York from both groups each brought back 1 to 2 kilos of cocaine and resold to midlevel dealers in this area, said Jeff Allen. A kilo is equal to 2.2 pounds.
An ounce of cocaine sold for $900 to $1,100, and rocks of crack went for $20. Street sales registered $350,000 to $400,00 per kilo each week, Jeff Allen said.
Those in custody made their initial appearance Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court here before Magistrate Judge George Limbert. The government is expected to ask at pretrial detention hearings that six of those arrested remain locked up because they have ties outside the country and pose a flight risk.
Cockfighting operation: During the roundup Wednesday, police found a cockfighting operation, 150 to 200 homing pigeons and a pit bull at 1358 Grandview Ave., the home of Pedro A. Garcia, also known as Carlos Cueves. Dave Nelson, Animal Charity humane investigator, responded to the scene to take charge of the animal situation.
It was a strange sight, Patton said of the rooster-filled basement. For fighting, roosters are fitted with steel claws and given cocaine.
The fighting ring featured carpeted walls and floor and patron seating available behind protective bars.