Homestead heroin bust yields 30 arrests
Federal, state and local law enforcement officials on Thursday unsealed the indictments of 34 people allegedly involved in a Homestead heroin-trafficking ring.
“These individuals were once part of a single group,” U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton said, “but have fragmented into four separate groups known as the Harper Group, the German Group, the Andrew Corbett Group and the Thomas Hopes Group.”
He said police received that and other intelligence through an investigation led by the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force that began in May.
Hickton said the amount of drugs and money seized continues to be assessed.
“This investigation was a response to the increased violence and incidence of drug trafficking in the Homestead area, much of which was attributed to a gang or criminal enterprise known as the Uptown Crew,” said Gary Douglas Perdue, special agent in charge of the FBI's Pittsburgh Division. “These indictments are a clear example of the determination and collaborative spirit among area law enforcement agencies to dismantle criminal enterprises that pose the most significant threat.”
Several police agencies were involved in searches and arrests Thursday morning in Mon Valley municipalities. Four of the suspects remain at large.
Munhall police detective Jamie Caterino was clipped by a vehicle in Whitaker that was carrying suspect Ronnell Robinson, 19, of Duquesne.
“There were minor injuries,” Caterino said. “The fugitive was apprehended.”
He said the driver will be charged.
Safe Streets Task Force supervisory agent Michael Christman said the investigation initiated from a series of meetings by the Violent Criminal Assessment & Strategic Targeting Initiative group at the Allegheny County Police Department.
“The greater Homestead area was identified as an area that had increased incidences of drug trafficking and violence that went along with drug trafficking,” he said.
Christman said New Jersey sources were supplying approximately 600 bricks — or 1⁄2 to 1 kilogram of heroin — every three weeks to the Pittsburgh area.
The main distributor was the Uptown Crew, which also had alternate suppliers, according to the FBI.
Christman said 1 kilogram of heroin is valued anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.
“The values are very high,” he said. “Heroin is very sought after. We have a tremendous demand for it.”
Christman said the Uptown Crew used violence to carry out its operations.
“Many of these individuals are in possession of firearms when they participate in drug trafficking offenses,” he said.
Christman said firearms were seized during warrant searches relating to the investigation.
“Firearms were a big part of their drug trafficking operation,” he said. “Firearms were something that these individuals sought out as a means to sustain their enterprise and protect their drug trafficking turf.”
Hickton said the investigation highlights “the disturbing trend of the use of juveniles to be runners and worse.”
He said juveniles as young a 14 are being used to avoid more severe adult prosecution.
“Sadly, this means we risk losing another generation of our youth if they find this is the route that they're going to take,” Hickton said.
He declined to discuss whether any juveniles will be charged.
“We have never been more resolved to deal with this problem,” Hickton said. “We have never had more information. We have never had more cooperation. The safe, law-abiding citizens out there, who are looking at law enforcement to make our communities safe, can rest easier.”
He said police need the public's continued support and assistance to find the fugitives.
Members of the Violent Criminal Assessment & Strategic Targeting Initiative group that took part in the investigation include the FBI; the state Attorney General's Office; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office and police; and police from Munhall, West Homestead and Pittsburgh.
Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.