DULUTH – More than three dozen people were charged in St. Louis County Court this week in connection with a drug trafficking organization operating throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

At a news conference Thursday, Duluth police officials said they worked with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to seize roughly 1,207 grams of meth and 527 grams of heroin and fentanyl in a coordinated drug bust that started Tuesday and led to 35 arrests.

"Logistically, it was the biggest thing that we've ever done," said Duluth Police Lt. Jeff Kazel, commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

The trafficking group was tied to the Chicago-based Black P-Stone Gang, according to charges for Ricky An­toinne Osborne, a 36-year-old Rochester man described by prosecutors as the head of the local operation.

Law enforcement arrested 12 people in Rochester, 12 in Duluth, six on the Iron Range, four suspects from other parts of Minnesota and one man from Chicago.

Authorities identified five men in various Department of Corrections facilities who were allegedly recruiting inmates to join their trafficking organization upon their release.

Those men were also charged and could serve longer prison sentences if found guilty, Kazel said.

There are outstanding warrants for 10 additional people believed to be tied to the operation.

Four other arrests not directly related to the trafficking organization were made in Rochester based on evidence uncovered during the investigation.

"Roundups like this will greatly affect the supply of opioids and other drugs in the community," Kazel said.

"If we can reduce the demand, we won't be a target for people to come sell here."

Osborne was charged with six felony drug crimes, as were most of the others linked to the operation, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said.

Over the course of their investigation, officers made undercover drug purchases, conducted physical surveillance, took confidential statements from informants and obtained search warrants, according to the criminal complaint against Osborne.

They also received permission from the court to track the location of vehicles and intercept electronic and wire communications with Osborne's cellphone.

Charges said Osborne rarely met directly with buyers; instead, he would direct them to someone in his network, which was concentrated in Rochester, Duluth and northern parts of St. Louis County.

Prosecutors wrote that five individuals — Anthony Osborne Jr., Torrance Elion, Julius Bettis, Rayshawn Motley Jr. and Kenneth Pogorelc— are believed to be directly below Ricky Osborne in the organization's chain of command. Elion and Bettis had not been arrested as of Thursday morning, according to Duluth police.

The complaint also alleged Osborne and others "conspired to make their mixtures of heroin and fentanyl stronger, to make it more appealing to their consumer base, and make it stronger than what their competition is selling."

"This is especially concerning as in St. Louis County alone this year there have been approximately 224 overdose incidents, 24 of which resulted in death," the document said.

St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said law enforcement agencies are in the process of transporting the charged individuals to the county jail in Duluth for their bail hearings.

Rubin added that all cases are being prosecuted in the state courts at this time, though federal charges could still be filed.

Kazel said officials started investigating the operation after receiving a tip about Osborne in late 2019.

Police estimated that the operation sold more than $1 million of opioids, meth and cocaine since the start of the year.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478