Eight alleged members of a $200 million, international, heroin-trafficking ring are being held in Baltimore pending detention hearings next week in U.S. District Court.
The eight, arrested Wednesday night and yesterday, are among 37 defendants -- nine Americans and 28 Nigerians -- accused in five federal indictments with drug conspiracy and distribution, racketeering, money-laundering, and related drug and weapons charges.
Another defendant, Hayward Walker of Baltimore, was arrested yesterday in Brandywine and charged in a separate criminal complaint with money-laundering. He was released on his own recognizance by a federal magistrate yesterday pending trial.
Five of the nine Maryland arrests were in Baltimore, and one each in Randallstown, Brandywine, Bethesda and Hyattsville.
Prosecutors said the chief of the international smuggling operation is Jerome Okoye "Peter" Onwuazor, 39, of Queens, N.Y.
Authorities said Onwuazor was arrested Wednesday night after he flew to Baltimore on the Trump Shuttle to get a $225,000 drug payment from undercover agents, who rode around town with him while he met with underlings and picked up another 1 1/2 kilos of heroin.
Agents seized the heroin when they arrested Onwuazor.
Authorities said they are still looking for another 1 1/2 kilos that were supposed to be in that delivery.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding said members of a federal drug task force infiltrated the alleged operation so quickly and so deftly during an 18-month investigation that "the agents cut across the leadership at the very top of a vast heroin-smuggling ring and vast heroin distribution groups in Baltimore."
Undercover agents posed as drug dealers, bought and sold heroin for the smugglers and local distributors, and laundered money for them, performing what the prosecutor called "all the vital services that drug dealers need."
"Everyone was a big shot," Harding said of the defendants arrested over the past two days. "There were no couriers, no mules, no street dealers."
Three indictments unsealed yesterday charged 21 defendants. Two more indictments were expected to be unsealed today.
Prosecutors sought detention for Onwuazor, six other Nigerians and one Baltimorean, Tyrone Clark, 24, of the 4600 block of Horizon Circle, on grounds that they were high risks of fleeing to avoid prosecution and dangers to the community.
Authorities say that members of the ring smuggled heroin into the United States from Korea and Singapore, distributing it in Baltimore, New York, Washington, Chicago and at least four other cities.
Harding declined to identify the other cities until more suspects are arrested, but said one defendant was caught in Urbana, Ill.
Authorities said the local drug distributors who are under indictment -- some of whom have not yet been arrested -- rose to power after the arrests of Robert Dowdy, Tommy Lee Canty and Linwood "Rudy" Williams, three major Baltimore drug dealers who have been convicted of federal charges over the past two years.
Federal, state and local drug agents made most of the arrests in Baltimore yesterday under the umbrella of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. Task force agents in other cities also arrested defendants, whom the government will try to bring to Baltimore after identity hearings next week, Harding said.
U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett said the defendants charged in the indictments are "violent, large-scale American heroin dealers."
The Nigerian drug ring that fed the local distribution networks was based in Baltimore, officials said. Its members smuggled drugs by couriers who ingested heroin-filled balloons to avoid detection. The heroin was taken from Baltimore to Chicago, New York, Washington and Los Angeles.
"In recent years, Nigeria has become a major transit point for Southwest and Southeast Asian heroin destined for the United States and Europe," said Robert C. Bonner, a DEA administrator. "Nigerian organizations are a new and aggressive heroin-trafficking threat."
Agents seized the heroin from Onwuazor after he left a pizza parlor in the 2500 block of Greenmount Ave. with the drugs in a suitcase, said Roy Clagg, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Clagg said $75,000 also was seized.