By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Law enforcement officials in Alexandria, Virginia and Maryland announced Monday that they had apprehended 11 suspects in connection with a complex drug trafficking ring operating throughout the D.C. region.
Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said the arrests, and the seizure of firearms, vehicles and large quantities of illegal narcotics and marijuana are an important step in combating the national opioid epidemic, albeit not a permanent one.
“I think this a complex enough case to cause a significant dent [in the drug trade] in the city for a short period of time,” Porter said.
Anthony Terry, 57, of Dumfries, is charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 100 grams of heroin and Robert E. Hunt, 54, of Alexandria, is charged with three counts of distribution of heroin.
Gregory Taylor, 43, of Fort Washington, Md., Tyrone Washington, 37, of Fort Washington, Tony Mann, 55, of Alexandria, Albert Taylor, 60, of Alexandria, Tony Smith, 31, of Woodbridge, Jaqueline McBride, 61, of Fairfax County, Richard Williams Jr., 63, of Alexandria, Dwayne Mann, 56, of Alexandria and Ronald Morton, 39, of Clinton, Md. are all charged with racketeering and conspiracy to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin.
Police said the investigation began a year ago, after Alexandria officers investigated several heroin overdoses in the city. The effort came to include Virginia State Police, the Maryland State Police, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
In the end, 11 have been indicted and are behind bars, and officials seized 10 guns, several vehicles, more than 400 grams of heroin, 330 grams of cocaine, 19 grams of PCP, seven pounds of marijuana and $18,000 in cash.
Gary Settle, director of the Virginia State Police criminal investigative bureau, stressed the organized nature of the heroin ring that was dismantled.
“This wasn’t just some guys doing a few deals on the corner — this was a complex network dedicated to trafficking heroin into the area,” Settle said. “These are people who purposefully put others’ lives at risk for their own financial gain. It is a necessity, it is vitally important that we have these public safety partnerships to fight this epidemic.”
Porter said the collaborative effort undertaken by law enforcement agencies in this investigation — called Operation Purple Rain — is a model for fighting the supply side of the drug trade going forward.
But Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stressed that this is only one part of the equation. He said that officials must be focused on reducing the demand for narcotics and opioids through education, prevention and addiction treatment.
“Operation Purple Rain was a perfect example of the enforcement strategy we’ve been pressing forward with, involving local, state and federal authorities, and we need to be relentless in pursuing the dealers,” Herring said. “But we need to stop the heartbreak before it begins. There is a real epidemic, and we have the power to bring it under control, and everyone has a role to play.
“We’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem.”
In 2016, nearly 1,100 Virginians died of opioid or heroin overdoses, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. And in Alexandria, 48 people have gone to the hospital after an overdose between September 2016 and last month. Porter said so far, no heroin-related deaths have been linked to this particular drug ring, although the investigation remains open.
Porter said the drugs seized last week together have a wholesale value of $100,000, and on a dose-by-dose street value of more than $1 million.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers have cited the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as part of their argument against passage of U.S. House Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act. Virginia senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine both signed a letter Tuesday highlighting the bill’s potential impact on substance abuse patients.
“The bill removes the requirement that insurers provide minimum levels of coverage for the cost of covered services, which will mean that consumers will have to pay more out-of-pocket for their health care needs,” they wrote, along with 19 other senators. “This, coupled with insufficient premium tax credits, the repeal of the cost-sharing subsidies, and high-risk pools, will substantially hinder access to care for those with mental health and substance use disorders.”