Drug traffickers targeted two Minnesota Indian reservations they thought wouldn’t have the resources to stop the millions of dollars worth of heroin suddenly flooding across their borders, investigators say.

But tribal police teamed with federal agents in a seven-month investigation that dismantled an interstate drug ring loaded with heroin, cocaine and prescription narcotics from Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis up to the remote Red Lake and White Earth reservations. As a federal grand jury indicted 41 members of the alleged trafficking operation, tribal police joined federal officials in Minneapolis Thursday to celebrate.

“There’s a perception that reservations don’t have the resources or the law enforcement manpower; that tribal reservations in particular are easy targets,” said William Brunelle, public safety director for the Red Lake Police Department. “As we’ve shown today, that’s [far from] the truth.”

The indictment identifies Omar Sharif Beasley, 37, as the alleged ringleader of the trafficking network. He and about 35 members of the alleged trafficking ring are in custody and arrest warrants have been issued for the rest. Federal agents confiscated 2 kilograms of heroin, 1 kilogram of cocaine and hundreds of prescription pain pills, as well as weapons. Agents declined to give a specific street value for the drugs.

“With the Beasley organization out of business, there will be less heroin sold in Minnesota and less heroin available in Indian Country,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. “We intend to keep it that way. Each will be held to account for their part in destroying the lives of families who have suffered the effects of heroin addiction.”

At Red Lake, “the effect of drugs and narcotics is being seen in epidemic proportions,” said Brunelle, who has watched rising numbers of addiction and overdose cases, children removed from their families and families who have lost their homes when they violated zero-tolerance drug policies. The number of band members seeking treatment for opioid dependence jumped 50 percent in the space of a few years, he said.

“Today, we have struck a great wound in the elimination of drugs in our tribal community … They will cause no harm to Red Lake anymore,” he said.

Long rap sheet

Investigators said Beasley, whose lengthy rap sheet included convictions in and around Minnesota reservations, ran his drug operation with businesslike efficiency. Between April 2014 and April 2015, the organization distributed “kilogram-quantities of heroin” on Minnesota reservations, “deriving millions in illegal drug proceeds,” said Dan Moren, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis-St. Paul office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Randy Goodwin, public safety director of the White Earth Police Department, has tallied rising numbers of overdoses, deaths, home invasions and violent crimes, and babies born to mothers who used heroin during their pregnancies.

“The effects of heroin on the White Earth Nation is and has been horrific,” Goodwin said. “Many lives, families and communities have been damaged or destroyed by this poison.”

The drug traffickers, Goodwin said, “have prospered from poisoning a lot of people in the White Earth Nation.”

Heroin use rising

Heroin use is on the rise nationwide and overdose deaths have tripled in the space of five years, according to the National Heroin Threat Assessment the DEA released last week. Piecing together the trafficking routes and members of the alleged trafficking network across five states took the combined efforts of tribal police, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, FBI, DEA and ATF agents and several state task forces.

Now, law enforcement’s attention turns to helping communities recover, and to making sure other drug traffickers don’t try to jump into the reservation heroin market.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office held a meeting Thursday night at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis to discuss the devastating effects of heroin on the Indian community and provide prevention tips.

Many of the approximately 100 audience members were affiliated with the Little Earth housing complex in Minneapolis, which has lost six people to heroin overdoses over the past six months.

“The problem is big,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. “It’s so big that we can’t arrest our way out of it.”