Here is my third cover story for Cleveland Scene magazine, likely the longest piece I’ve ever had published, on a two-year investigation by the FBI and local police into a massive east side Cleveland heroin ring that ended up bringing down 92 people (32 with state charges, 60 indicted federally). There’s enough information write a book (see the source documents at the end), but would have needed months to put it together and more pages than what a magazine could print. This piece is the came from four weeks of non-stop research and writing and presents a deep look into some of the major story-lines of how the heroin ring operated and how the Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force infiltrated it to bring it down. I posted most of my source documents — FBI affidavits, search warrant applications, other indictments, criminal complaints and more — at the end of the story so readers can check where much of my sourcing comes from and look into the other aspects of the investigation that I wasn’t able to get into due to space and time constraints. Here’s the opening to the second section of the story:
“Meech” was a ball-busting, no-nonsense dealer with a Los Angeles area code and a growing customer base somewhere back “out of town.” He didn’t know many people here, but he came to Cleveland with stacks of cash, ready to do business. He wanted his meetings on time and the drugs to weigh right. In 2011, Meech told his current Cleveland dealers that his heroin need had outgrew their capacity—he wanted to meet their suppliers directly.
Meech, of course, wasn’t a mid-level dealer looking to move up; he was an undercover task force officer assigned to infiltrate and pin down heroin suppliers in Cleveland. He’d been paired up with a criminal informant who’d been on the Cleveland police payroll since 2008 for providing information on the city’s drug traffickers.
Together, they began recording phone calls with dealers arranging meetings, wearing a wire when meeting in-person, using task force money with recorded serial numbers (so seized money could be traced back) and inquiring about their suppliers up the chain.