A Howard County grand jury indicted 33 people last week on charges of participating in a $1.5 million-a-week interstate heroin ring with its local base of operations in Columbia.
The defendants are believed to have been involved in making and distributing the opiate substitute fentanyl, which police say hTC has killed 27 people in Maryland since the beginning of the year.
Henry Jones, 29, of the 4900 block of Columbia Road, and Carlos Ortiz, 26, of the 10400 block of Hickory Ridge Road, the two alleged leaders of the organization, were charged under the state's "drug kingpin" statute, said the county's supervising assistant state's attorney, Michael D. Rexroad.
The statute mandates sentences of 20 to 40 years without parole. Jones allegedly supervised the operation in the Baltimore area, and Ortiz headed the ring in New York.
Assistant State's Attorney Bernard Taylor said the heroin was smuggled from New York to Columbia, where it was cut and packaged in a "stash house" in the 12000 block of Green Meadow Drive. The drugs were sold in Baltimore, he said.
"If people would like to think there's no big drug dealers doing their business out here, they're wrong," Taylor said.
Prosecutors identified the other defendants named in the indictments as middle- and upper-level distributors and couriers. They were charged with various narcotics offenses including conspiracy to import and distribute controlled dangerous substances, possession and distribution.
The indictments are the result of arrests after police raids on May 2 of three homes in Howard County, six in Baltimore and one in Baltimore County. The investigation into the drug ring is a joint effort between law enforcement officials in Howard County and Baltimore and federal authorities.