A federal grand jury has indicted 41 people in a drug trafficking conspiracy that distributed heroin, methamphetamine and other hard drugs across the Upper Midwest and on two large Minnesota Indian reservations, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.
At least 10 people were booked into Beltrami County jail as of Wednesday.
U.S. attorney Andrew Luger will announce Thursday what he calls the “takedown” of a multistate organization that transported illicit drugs largely out of Detroit and Chicago and sold them to Indian communities in Minnesota and elsewhere, according to court documents.
The indictment identifies Omar Sharif Beasley, 37, as ringleader of the trafficking network, alleging that he located and recruited sources, supervisors, distributors and couriers from Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis to aid in the distribution of controlled substances.
In addition to heroin and meth, defendants transported “oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and methadone to communities in and surrounding” the Red Lake and White Earth Indian reservations in northwestern Minnesota, according to the indictment.
Court records indicate that Beasley has drug convictions going back more than a dozen years. Over the past decade, most of his run-ins with the law were for possession of drugs with the intent to distribute.
In 2009, the Grand Forks Herald reported Beasley had been arrested on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in connection with possessing more than 2,000 tablets of prescription drugs. Beasley had been under investigation for selling drugs on the Leech Lake and Red Lake reservations. He was wanted at that time on a federal fugitive warrant out of Michigan, the newspaper reported.
About two dozen defendants named in the conspiracy charges have direct ties to Red Lake and White Earth reservations, where some were “known, located, recruited, and otherwise found.”
Officials from Red Lake Nation could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. An official from White Earth declined to say anything about the case ahead of Thursday’s news conference in Minneapolis. Calls to Beltrami Sheriff Phil Hodapp were not returned.
Joining Luger to provide more details of the drug sting will be agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as public safety directors of the Red Lake and White Earth tribal police departments.
The majority of the 41 defendants are charged with at least one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and other drugs. About a dozen are linked to 1 kilogram or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, according to court documents. Others are named for possessing or distributing smaller amounts of heroin and other drugs.
The investigation is aimed at closing off the pipeline of drugs funneled into reservations, which have felt acutely the effects of the growing use of heroin and derivatives.
“While people from every demographic have been affected by the heroin and opioid crisis, the American Indian community has been the hardest hit. In the community in recent months, several deaths have been linked to heroin or opiates in Minneapolis,” Hennepin County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Rebecca Gilbuena said in a statement.
Heroin use is on the rise and causing more overdose deaths than at any time in the past decade, according to the National Heroin Threat Assessment released last week by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Deaths involving heroin more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, from 2,402 to 8,260.
Hennepin County officials will hold a town-hall meeting Thursday night at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri at 3045 Park Av. S. in Minneapolis to discuss the impact on families and prevention methods.
Staff writer Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.