On Wednesday night, Jerome Okoye Onwuazor flew into Baltimore to pick up $225,000 an undercover federal drug agent offered to pay him.
Upon arriving at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Mr. Onwuazor, a Nigerian living in New York, asked the undercover drug agent to drive him around because he wanted to pick up about 3 kilo grams of heroin that has just been imported into Baltimore.
His first stop was Rapid Delivery Pizza in the 2900 block of Greenmount Avenue, but instead of getting a pepperoni and cheese, Mr. Onwuazor got a suitcase containing a kilo and a half of heroin, according to federal officials. At that point, federal law enforcement officers arrested him and later charged him under the federal drug-kingpin law.
Within hours, federal agents started seizing drugs, money and guns and arresting people in Maryland, New York, California and Illinois who were named in three separate grand jury indictments unsealed yesterday. In all, more than two dozen people were arrested and charged in connection with allegedly importing more than 100 kilograms of heroin from Africa and Europe.
By midmorning yesterday, federal officials had seized more than $70,000 in cash, three cars and numerous guns. Four other indictments remained sealed because federal officials said those named might flee. The seven indictments charge 37 people: 28 Nigerians and nine Americans.
With the arrests, officials claim to have broken up four different Nigerian drug smuggling rings and several drug rings that distribute heroin on the streets of Baltimore.
U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett said that the disruption of these rings, which were responsible for importing an estimated $200 million worth of heroin into the country was "nationally significant."
Federal officials declined to estimate how much of the nation's heroin supply they disrupted with the arrests, but said that it would affect the amount of heroin in Baltimore.
"This is going to have a detrimental effect on supply, no question," said Roy Clagg, the special agent heading the Drug Enforcement Agency's Baltimore office.
The investigation began 15 months ago when an informant introduced an undercover agent to one of the drug dealers. The agent started buying drugs and laundering money for the dealer and soon was introduced to other dealers and smugglers, said Robert Harding, an assistant U.S. attorney involved in the case.
"We eventually had cooperating undercover agents penetrating organizations in New York and other cities," he said. "They were able to get very close to the very top people. These indictments cut across the leadership of vast heroin smuggling rings and heroin distribution groups."
The investigation was headed by the regional office of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a coalition of law enforcement agencies. The undercover agents won the confidence of the smugglers, and made trips to Singapore and South Korea to pick up heroin shipped from Thailand. The shipments were intended for distribution in Baltimore, Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.