A federal grand jury has indicted 41
people in connection with a drug trafficking ring focused on two
Indian reservations in Minnesota.
Authorities say the ring distributed
drugs including heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone and others in and
around the Red Lake and White Earth Indian reservations starting in
April 2014. Drugs were obtained in Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis.
Heroin and prescription drugs have
blazed a horrific path on the reservation, said Randy Goodwin, White
Earth director of public safety. He said even newborn babies have
been exposed to heroin because of their mothers’ addictions.
lives, families, and communities have been damaged or destroyed from
this poison," Goodwin said. "Lives have been lost from
overdose. Families have been destroyed. Our elders have been victims
of threats, abuse, and theft."
Prosecutors describe Omar Sharif
Beasley, 37, as the ringleader of the operation, alleging that he
"recruited sources, supervisors, managers, distributors,
facilitators, couriers, drivers." A former federal fugitive,
Beasley has a history of drug convictions. For the past month, he has
been held at the Anoka County jail on an unrelated charge of
violating his probation.
Others charged include residents of
North Dakota, Chicago, Milwaukee and the White Earth and Red Lake
Each suspect has been charged
with conspiracy to distribute the drugs. Other charges for some of
the suspects include drug possession with intent to distribute,
illegal possession of a firearm and distribution of heroin,
methamphetamine and prescription painkillers.
The indictment was filed last week but
unsealed on May 27.
Dan Moren, assistant special agent in
charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the Twin
Cities, said the group’s members made millions by operating from
far-flung corners of the state where they faced less competition and
could try to hide the extent of their organization.
In northern Minnesota, where
authorities have noted an increase in heroin use, Beltrami County
Sheriff Phil Hodapp hopes the drug bust will slow drug sales.
"Our region has seen a dramatic
increase in the amount of heroin being trafficked into this area,
particularly onto the reservation," Hodapp said. "It’s our
belief that this investigation and these arrests are going to have a
significant impact on the amount of drugs that are being brought into
Audrey Thayer, a White Earth member
who lives on the Leech Lake reservation, hopes the most recent
arrests also will put a dent in the amount of drugs that ravage her
community. She said her 39-year-old daughter has been using drugs
since she was a teenager. Now in treatment, Thayer’s daughter has
been off of heroin and methamphetamine for seven months.
"For families to become healthy,
it takes work," Thayer said. "I can only speak on my own
behalf and my family — we’ve worked hard and have had very little
success. That is devastating, and you can see where families give up
In Red Lake, illegal drug use has
reached an epidemic level, Public Safety Director Bill Brunelle said.
"There are many good people
living in the Red Lake community who are not addicted to drugs, but
others have children that are longing for their parents to be drug
free," he said. "And unfortunately a percentage of these
children take it upon themselves to report their living situation
regarding neglect due to illegal drug abuse."
Making matters worse, Brunelle said,
was a long-standing perception by drug traffickers that Indian
country was an easy target given the lack of resources by tribal
police. But he said what his department lacks in manpower, it makes
up for in collaboration with federal agencies.
The bust dismantled the drug ring and
will hinder any attempts to spawn new operations targeting tribal
communities, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said Thursday.
"We didn’t want to just take down
the head of the organization or the people bringing the heroin into
the state of Minnesota," Luger said. "We wanted to make it
as difficult as possible for somebody to come in and pick up where
this organization left off."
As of May 28 morning, authorities
had arrested 35 people, from North Dakota to Gary, Ind.
MPR News reporters Dan Gunderson and
John Enger contributed to this story.
PHOTO: U.S. Attorney Andy Luger tells
reporters that a large heroin trafficking ring targeting two Indian
reservations in Minnesota is officially "out of business"
following the indictment of 41 people. Beside him is Bill Brunelle,
director of public safety for the Red Lake Tribal Police Department.
(Photo by Laura Yuen | MPR News)
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