Last updated: March 31. 2014 11:21AM - 1002 Views
By Edward Lewis elewis@civitasmedia.com

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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Three police officers wearing civilian clothes with badges hanging from their necks and service revolvers attached to their hips paced the hallway outside the private office of District Judge Martin Kane.

A sergeant was inside the office presenting a four page search warrant and affidavit for Kane to review and sign.

The ink of Kane's signature wasn't dry as the four officers left in a hurry, racing to execute the warrant at an apartment under surveillance for suspected heroin sales.

Two people with criminal misdemeanor convictions for using stolen credit cards and forging names were arrested on felony charges they were peddling heroin from the apartment.

Police said they seized nearly 300 heroin packets, materials used to package heroin and more than $2,700 cash from the residence.

How do people with convictions of petty crimes turn to selling heroin?

“Money, money and money,” explained Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Gerard Dessoye, who has 34 years in law enforcement. “When you see petty criminals becoming drug dealers in most cases, they were committing petty crimes to support their habit. They bridge that gap and become dealers themselves, finding a source to buy heroin at a cheaper price and have enough to feed their habit and sell off the access.”

Public health crisis

Two weeks ago, United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called the rise in deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers an “urgent and growing public health crisis.”

Holder said heroin overdose deaths have increased by 45 percent across the U.S. between 2006 and 2010.

“Addiction to heroin and other opiates — including certain prescription painkillers — is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life — and all too often, with deadly results,” Holder said in the March 10 video message.

Tactic and profits

Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General Tim Doherty said heroin traffickers are attracted to Northeastern Pennsylvania due to heavy demand resulting in higher profits.

“The profit margin is so high here,” Doherty said. “In Philadelphia, there is greater supply and less demand. Up here, there is big demand and less supply and the traffickers can charge more for their product. It's more profitable to sell heroin here than it is for cocaine.”

Dessoye said when he was a patrol officer, cocaine was the drug of choice.

“We had a lot of cocaine arrests and very view arrests for heroin,” the police chief said. “It definitely has reversed itself over the last nine, 10 years.”

Two undercover drug officers with the Luzerne County Drug Task Force said heroin dealers often reside in low-income apartments or rental properties.

“They are not on the lease or rental agreement because they don't want to be identified,” an undercover drug agent explained. “Remember heroin is in wealthy, middle class and poor areas. Word of mouth is golden with heroin users. If one person meets a new dealer through someone, or at an area that is known for drug sales, word will spread.”

Depending on its purity, a single heroin packet on the streets of the Wyoming Valley can earn a dealer $15 to $25, with a brick of heroin (10 packets) selling for $100 to $150. A single heroin packet in Philadelphia sells for $5 to $10.

“Comparing heroin to cocaine and prescription drugs, heroin is cheap and highly addictive,” an undercover drug agent said. “Once you start using heroin, you become an instant addict because you don't want to feel that dope sickness that sets in when you stop using heroin.”

The supply lines

A decade ago, most of the heroin sold in Luzerne County was traced to Philadelphia.

Dessoye and Doherty said the majority of today's heroin comes from northern New Jersey and New York.

“It's coming from all over,” Doherty said. “It's being brought in from people who want to move it and quickly sell it. Where there are ports and airports, you're going to find that city is a source of heroin infiltration into the United States.”

“What we have seen are the professional drug dealers; Organized drug dealers that don't use the product they are selling,” Dessoye said.

Afghanistan is the biggest producer of heroin sold in the United States, with 3.3 million Afghans involved in producing opium, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. It is part of a region known as the Golden Triangle, which also includes portions of Southeast Asia, the Yunnan province in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

However, an increasing amount of the deadliest heroin entering the U.S. appears to be coming from Mexico. Mexican drug smugglers are increasingly peddling a form of ultra-potent heroin – black tar — that sells for as little as $10 a bag and is so pure it can kill unsuspecting users instantly, sometimes before they even remove the syringe from their veins, according to an Associated Press review of drug overdose data.

Authorities are concerned that the potency and price of the heroin from Mexico and Colombia could widen the drug's appeal, just as crack did for cocaine decades ago.

A city's struggle

Within the last six years, Doherty said there have been three large scale investigations that targeted heroin traffickers in the Wilkes-Barre area:

• 2010: Operation Last Hurrah, a $250,000 heroin ring that resulted in 21 people charged.

• 2010: Operation Bloodstain, a Newark, N.J., Bloods street gang known as “Sex, Money and Murder,” with 19 people linked to distributing 1.5 million heroin packets for three years. “Operation Bloodstain was a hardened, violent group that called themselves Sex, Money and Murder that moved heroin by the bundle and bricks,” Doherty said.

• 2008: Operation Heavyweight that focused on two separate street gangs, Long Island Boys and Jersey City Boys.

Then-state Attorney General Tom Corbett, now governor, said the Long Island Boys took sole control of the heroin trade in the Sherman Hills Apartment Complex after the murder of Aaron Baxter, known as Rockstar, who was the leader of a Philadelphia gang.

“It's all about that profit. These out-of-town heroin dealers don't care who they sell too,” an undercover drug agent said.

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