CINCINNATI -- A major fentanyl bust in Cincinnati led to the arrest of about a dozen suspects.
The eight-month undercover operation went public Monday as SWAT units raided nine properties in the Cincinnati area, seizing 250 grams of fentanyl, $15,000 cash and four handguns. The DEA believes it was a multi-million-dollar drug trafficking organization.
Fentanyl and carefentanil cases are a high priority for law enforcement because the drugs are so dangerous. Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and carfentanil is 1,000 times stronger than heroin.
Court records show informants bought fentanyl at 15 locations. Most of them were within a 3-mile stretch along the Interstate 75 corridor in northeast Cincinnati. Once investigators believed they had connected enough suspects in the organization, they moved quickly to make arrests and seize fentanyl.
"We had 200 officers out on the street from DEA to the city to the drug task force, which has 14 agencies in it," DEA Agent-in-Charge Tim Reagan said.
Reagan said investigators believe the organization distributed about $2 million worth of fentanyl per year, using 180 different phone numbers and rental cars to make it more difficult to track their moves.
"Just trying to figure out how many people are involved, chasing the customer phone that's changing hands every day," Reagan said.
Prosecutors also decided to charge "enablers," the people who are accused of renting a stash house or car in their name to help protect the people accused of running the drug operation, according to Reagan.
"We have to do something where people will say, 'OK, I'm not going to rent that car in my name for you. I'm not going to rent that apartment for you,'" Reagan said.
Several defendants in the case had criminal records that include convictions for drug trafficking, including Keysean Dickey, who authorities said was the ringleader of the organization. He was on probation for cocaine trafficking.
Earlier this year, a 9 On Your Side I-Team investigation found that 43 percent of the convicted heroin traffickers in Hamilton County received probation, including dealers with long criminal records and prior drug trafficking convictions.
The investigation found the concern over jail and prison overcrowding prompted lighter sentences - typically probation - for lower-level drug dealers, often releasing them back to the same communities. In one case, Damion McRae is charged with shooting at two officers, wounding one of them, while he was on probation for drug trafficking.
Some law enforcement and lawmakers want to increase the penalties for trafficking fentanyl, but that would also cost taxpayers millions of dollars. And in recent years, the push has been to reduce costs, which has put many heroin and fentanyl dealers back on the streets.