A federal grand jury indicted 41 people over their involvement in a multi-state drug trafficking ring that authorities say saw heroin distributed on two American Indian Reservations in Minnesota.
According to the indictment, authorities say that drugs – including heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone, methadone and others – were bought in cities such as Minneapolis, Detroit and Chicago, then sold in and around the Red Lake and White Earth reservations in Minnesota starting in April 2014.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said 37-year-old Omar Sharif Beasley was the ringleader of the operation, alleging he recruited a whole range of managers, drivers and facilitators to aid the drug distribution operation.
Indictments for Beasley and 40 others involved in the ring – including residents of North Dakota and both reservations – have been handed down, with Luger saying the conspiracy generated millions of dollars for those involved.
"Because of the arrests made today, the Beasley Organization is out of business and Minnesotans from all parts of the state are better off for it," he said.
"If you bring heroin into Minnesota, if you sell it in our state, we will use every tool available to use to arrest you and investigate you and put you behind bars," he added, in a warning for anyone step into the gap left by the drug ring.
Each of the 41 suspects have been charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs, while other charges include drug possession with intent to distribute, illegal possession of a firearm, and distribution of heroin, meth and prescription painkillers.
Arrest warrants were issued for all 41 suspects, who make up the vast majority of the "Beasley Organization," of whom 35 are currently in custody.
In addition, 2 kilograms of heroin, 1 kilogram of cocaine and other prescription drugs were seized by officers.
Huge toll on reservation communities
Representatives of the White Earth and Red Lake reservations said at the press conference that heroin has devastated families and individuals, and taken a terrible toll on babies and children of users in the American Indian community.
Drug abuse on American Indian reservations has been an ongoing problem across the country, with the Association of Health Care Journalists reporting in 2012 that in some rural reservations, the rate of meth use has been as high as 30 percent.
Hennepin County spokeswoman Rebecca Gilbuena told the Star Tribune heroin use is also on the rise, and has been linked to "several deaths" in Minneapolis in recent months.
"While people from every demographic have been affected by the heroin and opioid crisis, the American Indian community has been the hardest hit," she said.