35 arrested following months-long drug investigation

Duluth police worked with multiple jurisdictions across the state to dismantle a regional drug trafficking organization.
Organized Crime Lt. Jeff Kazel

Organized Crime Lt. Jeff Kazel

A "significant" drug trafficking organization that operated in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, has been dismantled following the arrests of 35 people, the Duluth Police Department announced Thursday. 

During this investigation, police seized 1.16 pounds of heroin and fentanyl, 2.66 pounds of methamphetamine and two firearms from an operation that police say sold more than $1 million worth of drugs so far this year.

"We have made a substantial dent into the supply of these poisons that are reaching our street," Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said during a news conference Thursday.

The Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force began its investigation in December 2019 after police received information about a man named Ricky Antoinne Osborne, 36, who was selling drugs in the area, Organized Crime Lt. Jeff Kazel said.

Police say Osborne, who lives and runs his drug organization out of Rochester, is one of the heads of a gang that was distributing illegal drugs in greater Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Police say Osborne makes regular trips to Duluth and is suspected of being involved in the distribution of large amounts of illegal drugs in the city.

Through their investigation, which involved multiple jurisdictions, police identified people Osborne was allegedly working with, leading to the arrests the department announced Thursday.

"Logistically, it was the biggest thing we've ever done," Lt. Kazel said. 

The task force and teams from other jurisdictions started the roundup of suspects on Tuesday in Duluth, the Iron Range, Rochester and elsewhere. Police arrested 35 people:

  • 12 arrested in Rochester
  • 12 arrested in Duluth
  • Six arrested on the Iron Range
  • Five from other areas, including Hermantown, Esko and Owatonna

Five people who were already incarcerated were identified as being involved in the organization, with Kazel noting they were recruiting people to send out into communities and sell drugs. And four people in Rochester who weren't directly related to the organization were also arrested. 

Meanwhile, there are outstanding warrants for another 10 people who are involved in the case. Anyone with information on these suspects is asked to contact the police. 

In total, 50 people have been charged in connection to the organization, including Osborne, who faces six felonies, the Duluth News Tribune says. The cases are currently being charged at the state level, but federal charges are possible later on, St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said.

A key piece in ending addiction

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson called this a "groundbreaking case" that was complicated and involved multiple jurisdictions and departments. 

She thanked the officers involved in stopping the spread of illegal drugs, saying "Stopping the flow of what's coming n and decrease the access to these chemicals" is a key part of the process in bringing people out of addiction and setting them on a path forward, calling dealing drugs to people during a pandemic when they're desperate a "predatory practice."

Kazel noted that with the COVID-19 pandemic, overdoses in the community are "way above" what the city had last year, noting the pandemic has "had an effect" and "we have groups like this that are taking advantage of people that are suffering already."

"Roundups like this will greatly affect the supply of opioids and other drugs in the community, and that's going to affect the people who are experiencing addiction," Kazel said.

Helping people overcome their addictions helps police because lessening the demand for drugs in the area means the area won't be a target for people to sell drugs, Kazel said, adding: "Right now, we are a target."

The police department has programs, including a substance-use response team, to help people experiencing addiction. If you need help, call 218-391-9639.

Note: Some of the details provided in this story are based on the police's latest version of events, and may be subject to change.

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