Seven Baltimore residents and five other people were indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin and a deadly heroin substitute.
The substitute, fentanyl, goes by the street name of "China White."
It is 25 times stronger than heroin and has been blamed for 27 deaths in the Baltimore area since January, said U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett. A dose of 300 micrograms -- 1,000 times lighter than an aspirin tablet -- can be lethal, he said. The drug is an anesthetic used in surgical procedures.
The seven-count indictment alleges that 26-year-old Carlos Ortiz of the Bronx, N.Y., headed a multimillion-dollar drug distribution network in the Baltimore area.
Mr. Ortiz's indictment -- along with the arrest of 29 others in Baltimore and in Baltimore and Howard counties in May -- led to the virtual dismantling of the distribution ring, Mr. Bennett said.
"The important message is that the drug war is still being waged," Mr. Bennett said last night. "We have not won, but we feel pretty good about the battle on this particular front."
Officials believe that no deaths due to fentanyl have occurred since the arrests and that no seizure of the drug has been recorded since then either, Mr. Bennett said.
All the defendants also were indicted by grand juries in Baltimore and in Howard County on narcotics charges stemming from the same investigation, Mr. Bennett said.
"The arrests and indictments are a reflection of the increased level of cooperation" among city, state and federal agencies working together in a joint drug task force, he said.
The indictments grew out of a joint investigation begun in January by law enforcement officials from the Baltimore, Howard County, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. attorney's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Indicted with Mr. Ortiz yesterday were Eric Moore, 20, of Catonsville; Frankie Sanchez, 28, and Henry Jones, 29, of Columbia; Gladys Sanchez, 59, of New York; and Turonn Lewis, 25; Ronald Williams, 31; Adrian Scott, 20; Male Lewis, 31; Arnold Murdock, 19; Michael Moore, 23; and Sanette Curry, 22, of Baltimore.
Mr. Bennett said the 12 indicted by the federal grand jury are alleged to be the leaders of the drug ring. All are in area jails and some have prior convictions, Mr. Bennett said.
He said a 10-year mandatory sentence must be imposed for offenses involving 400 grams of fentanyl. That sentence must be doubled if death results from use of the drug, Mr. Bennett said.
A life sentence is mandatory if death occurs and the defendant has a prior conviction for drug trafficking.