Pubdate: Wed, 22 Sep 2010
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2010 The Blade
Author: Peter Krouse, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Federal-City Investigation


24 Indicted; Bust Called Ohio's Biggest

CLEVELAND - Federal prosecutors Tuesday announced what they called the
largest-ever heroin bust in Ohio.

The two-year investigation culminated Tuesday morning with the
indictment of 24 people, including a Nigerian man nicknamed Shaka Zulu
who lived in upscale Shaker Heights and a ringleader who lived in a $1
million home in Solon. Police believe he used drug proceeds to buy the

Attorneys for two alleged ringleaders declined to comment.

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said, "This case is no takedown of
street-corner drug dealers. This is a takedown of a sophisticated
drug-trafficking organization and network."

The bust gives a glimpse at what police believe is a growing heroin
trade in the Cleveland area.

"It's real huge in the suburbs now," said Cleveland police Detective
Todd Clark, who along with partner John Dlugolinski ran the

The distribution ring, which acquired heroin from Nigeria, Mexico, and
Colombia, stored the powdery drug in so-called stash houses around
Cleveland and two eastern suburbs.

Police seized at least 44 pounds of heroin, which they packaged in
plastic evidence bags and displayed yesterday during a news conference
at Cleveland police headquarters.

A pound of heroin sells for about $34,000 wholesale, but the street
value is much greater.

Police also grabbed $1.8 million in cash and a number of vehicles,
including a Mercedes Benz, two BMWs, a Cadillac Escalade, a Lexus, and
a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

According to police, one of the main suppliers of the drug ring was
Christopher Ugochukwu, also known as Shaka Zulu, who lived in an
apartment near Shaker Square, where he was arrested earlier this summer.

He allegedly supplied high-level distributors Bryant Johnson and
Richard Lanier, also known as Juice.

Johnson, 48, of Solon, and Lanier, 66, of Cleveland, dealt primarily
on Cleveland's East Side. They also were arrested earlier this summer.

The charges were laid out in a 138-page indictment that includes
transcripts of secretly taped phone calls of conspirators talking
about drug deals using various code words. Conversations referred to
heroin as playoff tickets and a Cadillac. The transcripts also mention
meetings around town, including in the parking lot of the YMCA in
downtown Cleveland and Larchmere Tavern, a popular restaurant just
north of Shaker Square.

Of the 24 defendants, 16 middle to lower-level distributors in the
ring were arrested yesterday. Six already were in custody. The
whereabouts of the other two are unknown.

Local police latched on to the ring in the fall of 2008 after learning
that heroin smuggled from Colombia to Miami was destined for
Cleveland. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tracked a sale to John
Sapp, known as Wren on the street, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle
Baeppler said. The investigation became known as Operation Little Wren
because Sapp's younger brother Christopher inherited the drug
operation after John went to prison.

A major investigation by the Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force
ensued involving the police departments of Cleveland and several
suburbs, along with the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, and Greater
Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Two Chicago-area groups of Colombian heritage supplied the Sapp
brothers, Ms. Baeppler said. One of those groups also obtained drugs
from a Mexican man in Chicago.

Ugochukwu had his heroin smuggled in from Nigeria, Ms. Baeppler said.
Police said they think the Sapp brothers hooked up with Lanier and
Johnson and supplied each other when their sources were dry.

Detective Clark said the arrests have put a dent in the heroin
business in the Cleveland area, but it won't stop it altogether.

"Somebody always picks up the business," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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