Federal, state and local authorities teamed up Tuesday to smash a drug ring operating in West Virginia, Michigan and Ohio, rounding up more than 90 people and seizing what they described as enough fentanyl to kill a quarter million people.
The Peterson drug-trafficking organization had been in business for over 20 years, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. "Now they won't threaten us with drugs anymore," he said.
About 200 officers took part in lightning raids dubbed Operation Saigon Sunset on the gang, which was headquartered in Huntington, West Virginia, a struggling city of 49,000 people with the worst drug problem in the state.
“Today is a turning point for the city of Huntington and in the war against the opiate nightmare,” Sessions said.
The West Virginia National Guard was called in to provide support for the officers involved in the Huntington arrests, according to local media.
“This wasn’t all show,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, whose jurisdiction includes Huntington. “We took down an entire network.”
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Among those arrested were Manget Peterson, who was seized in Huntington, and his brother, Willie Peterson, who was arrested in Detroit. Both men, accused as ringleaders, are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl, officials said.
Willie Peterson, federal officials said in a statement, was “the leader and drug supplier of the organization.”
The Peterson gang distributed kilogram quantities of heroin in Huntington, West Virginia, on nearly a weekly basis, using a network of redistributors, their statement read.
The Peterson brothers, however, have been under investigation for over a year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating Willie Peterson after a search of his Detroit residence last July led to the confiscation of 360 grams of fentanyl, the statement read. That, in turn, led to the identification of two of his suppliers in Detroit and the seizure earlier this month of 760 grams of suspected heroin, 450 grams of suspected fentanyl and 167 grams of suspected cocaine, the officials said.
Meanwhile, West Virginia drug task force investigators searched Manget Peterson’s home and a hotel room in August 2017 where his workers were distributing heroin, the statement continued.
“These searches resulted in the seizure of two handguns, over 70 half-gram baggies of heroin ready for distribution, and other evidence of drug trafficking,” the statement read.
Not explained in the statement is why the Peterson brothers weren’t rounded up until Tuesday.
The three states the gang is said to have operated in are among the hardest hit by the deadly opioid plague, which killed 42,000 people in 2016, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 909 people died in West Virginia of drug overdoses last year, according to the latest tally from that state’s Health Statistics Center provided to NBC News. And 183 of those fatalities were in Cabell County, which is where Huntington is located.