- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Federal authorities said they have struck a major blow to a massive interstate network that trafficked drugs into the opioid crisis’ “ground zero,” Huntington, West Virginia.

“This is not a takedown of corner dealers. This is a game changer,” said Mike Stuart, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, told reporters Tuesday morning.

West Virginia, and Huntington in particular, have been devastated by the opioid epidemic. The region has the highest-per-capita overdose and death rates in the country, Mr. Stuart said.

Prosecutors allege many of those drugs, including heroin and fentanyl, were brought into Huntington from Detroit by the Peterson Trafficking Organization. On Tuesday morning, more than 200 state and local law enforcement officials executed warrants in both cities with the goal of dismantling the Peterson Trafficking Organization.

The takedown resulted in 30 people indicted on federal and state distribution, narcotics and firearms charges. As many as 100 others are expected to be arrested in Huntington and Detroit on similar charges today, federal authorities said.

Among those arrested are Manget Peterson and his brother, Willie Peterson, who prosecutors say led the trafficking organization, the U.S. Department of Justice said. The arrests have led to the identification of two of Willie Peterson’s Detroit drug suppliers.

Previous investigations into the Peterson Drug Trafficking Organization lead to the seizure of 760 grams of heroin, 450 cocaine grams of cocaine fentanyl and 167 grams of suspected cocaine, the Justice Department said. The fentanyl seized could have resulted in the death of more than 250,000 people, according to the Justice Department.

More than 200 local and state law enforcement officers participated in the raids, including the ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshal’s Service, FBI and U.S. Homeland Security. In an unusual move, the West Virginia National Guard provided logistics and air support to federal authorities for the raids.

Mr. Stuart said the National Guard was used because the opioid crisis has exploded in West Virginia, and their support was critical to the takedowns.

“The National Guard has always played an important role in West Virginia,” he said.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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