DULUTH - Duluth's police chief called it the largest cocaine and crack cocaine bust in Twin Ports history in terms of number of people indicted and the volume of drugs they had dealt.
Twenty-nine people were indicted on federal charges related to the possession and distribution of cocaine and crack cocaine in the Duluth-Superior area, Rachel Paulose, U.S. Attorney for the Minnesota District, announced during a press conference at Duluth's City Hall Wednesday.
Allegedly, Bernard "Mooch'' Vann, the owner of Hot Gear Cold Grills & Beauty Supply, on First Street, was the head of the ring and the drug supplier for more than 30 distributors of illegal drugs. Vann's criminal history includes 25 criminal court files dating back to 1991 in five Minnesota counties.
Authorities said Vann used his store as a front to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine.
Investigators said that over the past two to three years, the Vann drug ring has been responsible for the sale and distribution of between 88 and 132 pounds of cocaine and crack cocaine in the Duluth-Superior area.
Paulose said some of the defendants were making their initial court appearances in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis at the same time she and B.J. Zapor, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were announcing the indictments in Duluth. Four of the defendants remain at large. The other defendants will be in court in the Twin Cities today.
The 69-count indictment states that between Dec. 1, 2005 and July 16, 2007, the defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired to possess and distribute cocaine and crack cocaine.
Paulose said she came to Duluth, rather than announce the indictments from her office in Minneapolis, to send a message to drug dealers. She said that those who think they can avoid federal prosecution by setting up shop in greater Minnesota are mistaken.
"We believe that by dismantling these organizations, by prosecuting offenders, by advocating for tough sentences and by publicizing our work, we'll have an important deterrent effect that may prevent or discourage future crimes,'' Paulose said.
The indictments were filed last Thursday and unsealed Wednesday. They are the result of a three-year investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force, the Duluth, Superior and Hermantown police departments, the St. Louis County Sheriff's office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Local officers were federally deputized about 1½ years ago so that they could work in multiple jurisdictions while conducting their investigations and so they could take advantage of tougher penalties for convictions obtained in the federal court system.
Twenty-five of the named defendants in the indictments were arrested without incident, primarily on Tuesday during a day-long, multi-agency, law enforcement operation involving about 100 officers in the Duluth-Superior area.
"It culminated over several years and it involved hundreds, if not thousands of hours of investigatory time," Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said of the operation. "The impact on the drug market, particularly the cocaine market, is substantial. It will have an impact in our neighborhoods as far as crime goes because many of these individuals have been neighborhood problems. Their drug dealing, their behavior, their guests and their customers have adversely impacted the neighborhoods."
Zapor said the busts will have an impact on the availability of drugs in the Twin Ports, but candidly added: "Unfortunately with narcotics trafficking, someone will come back to replace them and these task force officers will be ready for that."
Zapor said officers involved in the undercover drug operation dedicated it to former Duluth Police Sgt. Dennin Bauers, the late officer's wife and his family. Bauers led the department's special investigations unit and was commander of the Lake Superior Drug Task Force when he laid the groundwork for joint federal-local drug investigations. He retired in 2004 and died in an accident while playing hockey last year.
The defendants named in the indictment are:
Bernard Vann, "Mooch," 41; Tyrell M. Beckom, "Rell," 22; Francisco James Bell, "Whiteboy," 31; Clarence J. Beloch, "C.J.," 19; Sidney J. Boyd, "Scooby," 26; Darryle Lajoune Brown, "D," 32; Angelo M. Castleman, "Boo," 22; Tracey Ann Clark, 23; Travion E. Davis, "Batman," 23; Makenzie L. Eggersgluess, 20; Carrie Jo Farrell, 40; Christopher Gray, 23; Jolynn Laura Johnson, 23; Amy L. Legore, 27; Chaz M. Legore, 22; Felicia M. Mason, "Fe Fe," 38; Quincy J. Mason, "Little Brother," 25; Jennifer R. Mincey, 27; Kevin W. Moffit, "Shorty," 39; Sinatra Andrea Peters, 33; Robert Kennedy Price, 37; Lavoris J. Robinson, "Shadow," 24; Jabari O. Samuel, "Voodoo," 27; Aldrea L. Siler, 23; Roynell Taylor, "Hood," 22; Fredrick D. Watts, "Woady," 31; Antwon Bernard Williams, 23; Theodore Wright, "Theo," 69.
Machael Laman Hill was named in a separate indictment, charging him with one count of possession with the intent to distribute crack cocaine.