More than 50 heroin traffickers have been arrested for crimes committed in St. Charles County. Most were arrested in a 30-hour period, bringing a swift conclusion to a ten-month collaborative investigation.
Since last fall state, local and federal authorities have been working together to bring about the arrests, representing what the head of the St. Louis region’s Drug Enforcement Agency described as a more proactive partnership than past collaborations.
“What we did differently here is we brought together the chiefs and the sheriffs and the prosecutors and we talked from the very beginning so we had a discussion all along the way to make sure we were looking at the right individuals in all the communities, that our evidence was where the prosecutor wanted it to be and that we were still remaining focused on what we wanted,” said James Shroba, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA.
The investigation focused on crimes committed in St. Charles County, but the arrests took place throughout the metropolitan area. Some people arrested are known to be connected, but those arrests don’t represent 50 members of one drug trafficking ring, said St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar.
According to Lohmar, this is most likely the highest number of heroin-related arrests St. Charles County has ever seen.
“I can’t confirm that but I would be shocked if it wasn’t,” Lohmar said. “This is something that’s unprecedented for us as a law enforcement community for sure.”
All told, Lohmar has charged three people with involuntary manslaughter for providing the heroin that led to heroin overdose deaths, 21 people with felony distribution and 25 people with felony possession. Four more charges are pending; some people were charged with multiple crimes.
Lohmar said several cases have also been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office for federal charges.
A crowd of people who have lost loved ones to heroin joined the throng of media and law enforcement at the news conference Wednesday announcing the arrests.
Garbed in bright colored “Stop Heroin” shirts, many have participated in heroin awareness walks in St. Charles County organized by Gee Vigna, who lost her daughter Nicky Vigna to a heroin overdose in 2013.
“We got introduced to heroin the painful way when my daughter overdosed in 2010,” Vigna said. “It wasn’t even something I thought to educate my children about because I didn’t even know it was here…I hope that everyone now takes a rampant approach to education. Our community needs to know that this is here.”
For Michael McDonald, who lost his son Sean McDonald to a heroin overdose in 2014, the news that 50 heroin traffickers have been arrested represents a good start.
“That’s 50 people less that are going to sell my daughter or someone else a drug, a deadly drug like heroin. I think this is something that needs to happen more often.” McDonald said. “I understand they have to build cases and things like that but it would be nice to get 50 more off the street because there will be 50 more behind them.”
More than 240 people have died of an overdose from heroin or other opiates in St. Charles County in the past seven years, according to St. Charles County coroner records collected by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse-St. Louis Area.
But just as troubling for the law enforcement officials behind the initiative is the violence they say drug traffickers bring to the region.
During the course of the operation, police collected 28 guns, 34,000 doses of heroin and assets worth almost $100,000.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.
Correction: a prior version of the story stated that all arrests occurred during a 30-hour period. Some arrests took place earlier.