DULUTH - The U.S. Attorney's Office has hired a full-time criminal prosecutor to work out of the Federal Building in Duluth — the first time the Minnesota district has added a position outside of the Twin Cities just as eight alleged drug traffickers are charged this week with dealing meth and fentanyl out of the region.

Nichole Carter had worked for the St. Louis County Attorney's Office until she shifted to her new role in February.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger introduced Carter as part of a news conference announcing that, after a long-running investigation, eight alleged drug traffickers with a base in Chicago had been indicted on conspiracy to distribute meth and fentanyl.

According to court documents, the group was led by Ezell Cordero Lucas, 32, who arranged sales and then relied on others to sell it. Members of the Lake Superior Violent Offender Task Force seized large quantities of the drugs, according to a news release from the Minnesota District of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Late last fall, we all met together — law enforcement, prosecutors — here in St. Louis County and I heard a clear message of how the fentanyl crisis has afflicted this region so much, and our state as a whole," Luger said at a news conference at the Public Safety Building. "At the time of our meeting, I committed to bringing federal resources here to address the fentanyl crisis."

Others indicted include Carl Maurice Brown, 32, Robert Desean Chism, 35, Anthony Lenard Green, 34, Arreal Dominique Timberlake, Deandre Michael Westmoreland, 35, and Pharoo Nasun Witherspoon, 35, all of Chicago. Matthew James Erickson, 35, is from Duluth. When he was arrested almost a year ago, Erickson had on him more than 300 grams of fentanyl, 14 grams of heroin and synthetic fentanyl.

Timberlake and Witherspoon have not yet had their initial court appearance, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Some of the people targeted for sales were in treatment at the time, according to commander Chad Nagorski of the Duluth Police Department. The department conducted more than 12 buys from the organization, he said, sometimes using undercover personnel. In total, they recovered 1,191 grams of fentanyl and 575 grams of meth from the organization.

According to court documents, the accused traffickers started in the Twin Ports area in December 2021 and continued through mid-February.

Luger described Carter's hiring, the addition of a victim witness specialist in Bemidji and the subsequent indictments as a direct and intentional response to the impact of drugs in these communities. St. Louis County Attorney Kim Maki said there were 663 overdoses in 2023 — 61 that were fatal — a record high for this region.

"These aren't just stats on a page," she said. "They're people we know."