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Continued: Cartels pipe heroin, death into the heartland

  • Article by: PAUL MCENROE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 24, 2014 - 12:59 PM

From Chicago, heroin is distributed to the Twin Cities mainly by the Latin Kings and Gangster Disciples street gangs, whose couriers often ride inexpensive intercity buses, their stash hidden in X-box consoles or other innocuous parcels.

On reaching the Twin Cities, the smuggling pipeline forks. Most of the heroin packaged in powder form — intended for users who will snort it or smoke it — ends up on the North Side of Minneapolis, sold by Chicago’s Gangster Disciples to their counterparts and gang subsets here. Suburban youth drawn from outlying Hennepin and Anoka Counties are the gang’s primary customer base, agents say.

On the city’s South Side and in St. Paul, Mexican distributors control sales through the Latin Kings. Agents say it’s as if an invisible trading border has been drawn across Minneapolis, dividing north from south, and a private understanding divides the trade territories between Hispanic and African-American gangs.

At the street level, a drug retailer lives in a world of ounces, a user in the realm of grams. A kilo of heroin contains about 32 ounces, or 1,000 grams; a gram can be cut up into about 10 “highs” for retail sale. For that little packet, on today’s market, a heroin user pays $10 to $20 to get a deep, opiate high that lasts hours.

That user, prosecutors say, could be a young adult from Eden Prairie, Brooklyn Park or Shakopee who dials up a retailer and waits for a one-gram order to be delivered, within an hour, to a shopping mall parking lot or fast-food drive-through. Agents describe it as a “call and drop” delivery tactic that rivals any takeout pizza chain for prompt service.

“It’s not the inner-city alley where somebody is shooting up with a needle in their arm,” said Prokopowicz, the Dakota County prosecutor. “It’s now the teen from Hastings, the mom from Hastings and the successful businessman. We see this — the single mother with two or three kids present when there’s a raid in their suburban home and she’s arrested for possession or sale.”

‘King Kong’

By 2011, Deangelo Curtis was working on the high wire of this network. In early 2012 he was visiting Chicago personally, buying heroin at a purity rate of more than 90 percent, according to wiretap transcripts and federal court records. Curtis was so trusted by his Chicago connections inside the Latin Kings that he was fronted large amounts of heroin, his wholesalers trusting they would be repaid after he made his own profits.

A key to his success was his ability to bridge rival gangs. Through personal charm and connections made in prison or jail, agents say, Curtis was able to cross turf boundaries that are typically governed by race and gang affiliations. He was a black man accepted as a member of the Hispanic Latin Kings, and at the same time he could negotiate his way through the African-American Gangster Disciples’ network in the Twin Cities.

“They called him King Kong for a reason,” said the former DEA task force officer who conducted surveillance on Curtis. “You don’t get to call yourself that unless you’ve got something to back it up.”

After the 2012 bust that netted Curtis and his group, agents reviewed the cellphone of one of Curtis’ Chicago associates. They found images of Curtis celebrating at a Homewood Hotel Suites room in Bloomington — posing with an automatic rifle in one photo, chewing down on a thick wad of cash while flashing the Latin Kings gang sign in another.

By 2013, Curtis and 42 other conspirators were facing prison, indicted after a two-year federal investigation. Besides seizing heroin, large amounts of cash and guns in Chicago, border agents intercepted 1,670 pounds of marijuana that was destined for the group.

Today, Curtis is serving six years at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Cheaper than methadone

Jennifer Griffith is standing in a Scott County courtroom for sentencing on a probation violation. She is 20 years old, 9 months pregnant and addicted to heroin.

She tells Judge Christian Wilton that she’s been clean for three months and is sticking to her methadone program.

A skeptical Wilton notes that she tested positive for heroin in December and that now, in early March, deputies report that they found five suspicious tinfoil packages in her coat. Calmly, he asks how much she pays for one-tenth of a gram of heroin.

“Twenty dollars,” she says.

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