Calling heroin deaths a regional epidemic, authorities Wednesday announced charges against 31 people accused of peddling the drug for a massive distribution network in Cook and DuPage counties.
DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin said the charges stem from an extensive investigation that began in February and involved numerous law enforcement agencies and more than 17 court-authorized wiretaps.
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Authorities ID heroin ring suspectsThe DuPage County state's attorney's office on Wednesday identified those charged in connection with a heroin-distribution ring as follows. Two suspects were not named.
• Antoinne Steele, 42, of Chicago
• Steven Phillips, 37, of Hillside
• Terrance Steele, 35, of Chicago
• Brandon Brown, 40, Chicago
• Alvin Dickens, 29, of Chicago
• Khristopher Weddington-Hawkins, 27, of Chicago
• Antonio Magee, 27, of Chicago
• Jason Savado (age, hometown not provided)
• Lucia Cummings, 48, of Melrose Park
• Kevin Jennings, 39, of Chicago
• Kelly Olmetti, 30, of Melrose Park
• Michael Czysczon, 32, of Inverness
• Vanessa Hernandez, 25, of Naperville
• Jonathan Kosloske, age not provided, of Glendale Heights
• Felicia Cortez, 18, of Chicago
• Danielle Dollinger, 28, of Buffalo Grove
• Rosalie Sanchez, age not provided, of Chicago
• Jose Rodriguez, age not provided, of Chicago
• Donald Black, 45, of Evanston
• Rene Covert, 29, of Chicago
• Demetrious Massey, 37, of Chicago
• Joseph Scarpelli, 34, of Glen Ellyn
• Wendy Scarpelli, 34, of Glen Ellyn
• Michael Roder, 29, of Hanover Park
• Andres Garcia, 26, of Chicago
• Juan Reyes, 23, of Chicago
• Jimmy Serrano, 25, no hometown provided
• Jason Serrano, 28, of Chicago
The case comes as fatal heroin overdoses have skyrocketed locally, with 70 in DuPage since January 2012 alone, according to Berlin.
"We have a heroin epidemic in this county," he said. "(The) charges send a message to those drug dealers who are peddling ... the poison that is killing the citizens of this county. It sends a message that those drug dealers will be caught, they will be arrested, they will be charged, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
At the "top of the pyramid," Berlin said, was Andres Garcia, 26, of Chicago, who is accused of using "lieutenants" and "runners" to supply kilograms of raw, uncut heroin to suburban customers. Prosecutors said the operation generated $2,500 to $3,000 a day.
The investigation began after authorities executed a search warrant in Carol Stream, seized more than 20 grams of heroin and obtained information about a widespread drug ring.
Altogether, 31 people from Cook and DuPage counties have been charged. At least 26 had been taken into custody as of Wednesday, authorities said.
The case is the first to be prosecuted in DuPage under the state's new Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law.
Jack Riley, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office, said the alleged drug ring was "clearly the work of surrogates of the Mexican cartels," which provide 80 percent to 90 percent of the heroin trafficked throughout the Midwest.
"This is the new face of organized crime -- don't kid yourself," said Riley, whose office was involved in the investigation.
"This is the way we're going to do business from this point forward," he said. "We're going to go after organizations, from the people putting it on the street, from the people transporting it, all the way down to the source of supply -- wherever that takes us."
Twenty-two defendants, including Garcia, appeared in bond court Wednesday on various charges ranging from heroin possession to racketeering and unlawful criminal drug conspiracy.
Judge Elizabeth Sexton set bails of $75,000 to $1.5 million.
Investigators from the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group and more than a dozen police agencies including Addison, Glen Ellyn, Lombard and Naperville "spent thousands of hours listening to phone calls, conducting surveillance, executing traffic stops and also interviewing numerous people" throughout the six-month investigation, Berlin said.
Berlin described the alleged drug ring as "very methodical."
He said the group, consisting mostly of Chicago residents, brought heroin into the suburbs and sold it to suburban users in the city.
"Unfortunately, I think this is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We busted a huge organization, but others are out there."
Berlin, who said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are possible, attributed the climb in heroin deaths to the drug being "10 times more powerful" and addictive than it was decades ago.
Riley had a message for those still dealing: "You better be looking over your shoulder, because we're coming," he said.
All of the defendants are scheduled to appear before Judge Robert Kleeman in September.