A spate of heroin overdoses in Thurston County last year helped prompt an investigation that culminated Wednesday in the arrests of 23 people in South Sound and the seizure of 65 pounds of black-tar heroin.
The sweep, announced Thursday after a 13-month investigation, included raids on 19 South Sound locations and was part of the largest national operation to target the Mexican drug trade.
Some 3,000 law enforcement officers fanned out across the country Wednesday with search warrants and arrested 429 people. Since it began, the investigation has led to the seizure of 80 pounds of heroin, $400,000 in cash, four firearms and more than 4 pounds of methamphetamine, officials said.
The local heroin seizure was the second-largest in the state’s history, local officials said. The seizure and arrests have put a huge dent in the Mexican heroin trade in South Sound, said Doug Whalley, assistant U.S. Attorney for Western Washington.
“No one will be taking over for quite some time, maybe years,” he said.
During a news conference announcing the raids, Whalley pointed to a map and noted a six-square-mile area in South Tacoma where, for several years, drug distributors and dealers from throughout the region came to buy drugs.
In the past year, undercover officers and agents went to the area – bounded by South 56th Street, Pacific Avenue, 112th Street South and South Tacoma Way – and made up to 40 drug buys.
Whalley called the operation “Amway for drug addicts.”
Among those taken into custody was a Pierce County man who investigators believe was the main supplier and head of the organization.
Whalley had few details about the mastermind other than he is an older man, speaks English, talks like a businessman when discussing the drug ring and has been in the area for at least a decade.
The man’s nickname is Piojo, which is Spanish for “lice,” Whalley said.
Officials said the local drug ring was part of a large operation in which drugs came from Mexico, including the area of Constitucion in Baja. Drugs profits were shipped to Mexico in hidden compartments in vehicles.
Tacoma, Lakewood, Auburn, Bonney Lake and Puyallup police departments took part in the investigation, as did the Washington State Patrol, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state Department of Corrections.
Several Sound drug task forces also were involved.
Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692 firstname.lastname@example.org