Raids break up alleged multimillion-dollar heroin ring in Allegheny County
A series of police raids on Thursday in Munhall, West Mifflin and Homestead arrested most of the 34 alleged members of a Homestead-based gang that was selling about $500,000 to $1 million worth of heroin every three weeks, a federal agent said during a press conference at the Federal Courthouse, Downtown.
The Uptown Gang — or Uptown Crew — was bringing in 1⁄2 to 1 kilo of heroin from Newark every three weeks, said Michael Christman, supervisory special agent for the FBI. A federal grand jury on March 6 indicted the 34 people for drug trafficking and related crimes.
Catherine Lesko, a Homestead business owner, said the majority of people in Homestead go to work and otherwise live law-abiding lives.
“This is wonderful news,” she said. “There is a very small group of people who live negative lives here.”
Successful prosecution of the 34 people “will effectively dismantle this group,” Christman said.
Unfortunately, there are several other groups still trafficking heroin in Western Pennsylvania, he said.
“It's vast, the number of groups,” Christman said.
In the past six years, drug-dealing gangs in Western Pennsylvania have switched from selling cocaine and crack to selling heroin, he said. One reason for the change is that law enforcement has been intercepting major cocaine shipments entering the country, which has reduced the availability and driven up the price of both drugs.
Another reason is that people addicted to prescription drugs tend to migrate to heroin when they can't get hold of painkillers, he said.
Homestead Mayor Betty Esper said she didn't know what to make of the news because she didn't know anything about the investigation or the arrests until she showed up to help in the nonprofit Rainbow Kitchen.
“I came down here, and (other volunteers) were telling me about it,” she said.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said a troubling aspect of the investigation is that the gang was using about six to 12 juveniles, 14 and older, for running drugs, holding firearms and other crimes.
“Sadly, this means that we risk losing another generation of our youth if they find that this is the route they're going to take,” he said.
His office is working with law enforcement to develop a strategy to deal with the increasing problem, Hickton said.
Christman said knowledge of the covert investigation was limited to members of the Allegheny County Police Department's Violent Criminal Assessment and Strategic Targeting Initiative.
Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said VICAST is made up of federal, state and county law enforcement.
“We get together and identify people or organizations we would like to target in a long-term investigation,” Moffatt said. “This is intelligence sharing. If it's needed, you form a task force out of that.”
Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Brian Bowlingis a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-325-4301or firstname.lastname@example.org.