CLEVELAND - Ninety-two people indicted in the biggest heroin bust in northern Ohio ran an operation financed in part by traffickers robbing other drug dealers, according to law enforcement officials and charges detailed Wednesday.
"All of us up here are confident that this investigation will have a positive impact on the neighborhoods where these individuals ran their destructive, and sometimes violent, operations," said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI in northern Ohio.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, the top federal prosecutor in northern Ohio, said it was the "single largest heroin takedown in the history of northern Ohio" in terms of the number of defendants.
The bust reflects the growing threat of heroin in Cleveland and its suburbs, according to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who cited medical examiner figures showing the county on pace for 200 heroin-related deaths this year, up from 40 in 2007.
"The dealers aren't dying," he said. "They're just making money."
Court documents said dealers obtained heroin from sources in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and elsewhere and sold it in the Cleveland area.
A 203-count federal indictment detailing the operations from September 2011 through this month said traffickers financed some operations by robbing drug dealers and drug users who had showy cars and jewelry.
According to the indictment, dealers conducted counter-surveillance of law-enforcement officers and posted sentries to look out for police.
The defendants "shared information with each other about law enforcement presence and posted sentries to watch for law enforcement," the indictment said.
The charges say the alleged dealers -- with nicknames including "Pringles," "Joker" and "Money" -- kept track of court records for drug suspects facing charges and avoided doing business with them.
The suspects used phony names to obtain cellphones to conduct business and used code words and street slang to obscure their drug dealing, the indictment said.
John Luskin, attorney for an alleged ring leader, Keith Ricks, 31, of Cleveland, declined to comment except to say he was reviewing the evidence against his client. Ricks remains locked up awaiting trial.
The cases were split between federal and state courts depending on factors including the severity of possible sentences, officials said.