21 charged in northern Minnesota with heroin, fentanyl trafficking
A months-long investigation allegedly revealed leaders using arson, assault and threats of violence to control a network of dealers throughout the Twin Ports, Iron Range and beyond.
DULUTH — Authorities have charged 21 people for their alleged involvement in a drug-trafficking organization that was said to have transported and sold more than 10 pounds of heroin and fentanyl across the Northland.
Charging documents say the group, led by Nicholas Calloway, 23, was responsible for moving some $725,000 worth of product — or more than 18,000 individual doses — between June and December.
Leaders allegedly used arson, robbery, assault and intimidation to manage a network of dealers and collect debts.
Authorities said sales were documented throughout Duluth, Cloquet, St. Louis and Carlton counties, the Fond du Lac and Bad River reservations and other locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
“Cases like these are time- and labor-intensive but are essential to removing drug-trafficking organizations and lethal opioids from our neighborhoods," Duluth police Lt. Jeff Kazel, commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, said in a statement. "Our community is fortunate to have the men and women of this team working to save lives through law enforcement and victim-outreach efforts.”
Investigators worked undercover and made a number of controlled purchases from Calloway and his "runners" — the people mostly responsible for selling the products on the streets — according to criminal complaints filed in State District Court. Calloway allegedly operated the scheme from Chicago, where he facilitated many of the transactions through phone calls and text messages.
Through the monthslong investigation, police said they were able to identify Calloway's supplier as Demetrius Wayne McCafferty, 34. Investigators obtained court authorization to tap Calloway's phone, listening in on phone calls in which the two men "discussed what type of heroin customers in Duluth prefer" and "how McCafferty would mix additional fentanyl into the heroin so that Calloway could sell the product in Duluth," according to the complaints.
The charging documents state that Calloway often stayed at the Cloquet residence of a runner, Jolisa Angeline Henagin, 22, while he was conducting business in the Northland. The two allegedly took part in a number of additional crimes together.
On Oct. 21, authorities said Calloway pistol-whipped a former runner who had stopped working for him before setting fire to the man's Commonwealth Avenue apartment in the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood. Calloway, driven to the scene by Henagin, used a propane torch to set fire to a couch and mattress, killing the man's cat from smoke inhalation, according to the complaint.
In mid-November, when Henagin planned to leave town, she allegedly coordinated to leave a heroin supply at the East Hillside neighborhood residence of Alexis Rose Steltz, with Calloway directing customers to the address for purchases. But a customer, Mark Raymond Scharnott, went there and discovered Steltz passed out in her car in the driveway, the complaint states.
Calloway allegedly directed Scharnott to take the heroin, which he did, assaulting Steltz in the process. Calloway later called Scharnott, 33, and told him to burn the woman's Fourth Street home and steal her TVs in retaliation, according to the documents. Scharnott allegedly agreed, but failed to follow through; investigators conducting surveillance said they watched as Henagin drove him to the scene, with the car circling the block several times before leaving.
Authorities said they documented numerous other transactions with Calloway's runners throughout the Twin Ports, Iron Range and beyond. In several cases, officials said, he was heard on phone calls accepting food stamp cards as payment for heroin.
In the course of executing warrants and arresting suspects, police said they seized one firearm, over $9,000 in cash and more than 500 grams of heroin and fentanyl mixture — enough for approximately 2,000 doses, with an estimated street value of $80,000.
“Dismantling a (drug-trafficking organization) of this scale limits the source of supply of these poisons to the people of St. Louis County and the city of Duluth and undoubtedly saved lives,” Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said. “Our talented and substantial coalition of dedicated law enforcement partners time and time again demonstrate that the people peddling these poisons cannot hide in the shadows and cause harm to the people of our community without detection and accountability.”
Criminal complaints were filed by the St. Louis County Attorney's Office over the past several weeks. As of Wednesday, police said 14 suspects were in custody, some out of state and awaiting extradition, while seven were still being sought on warrants.
“In 2021, there were 42 opioid overdose deaths and another 346 non-lethal opioid overdoses in St. Louis County,” County Attorney Kim Maki noted in a statement. “One reason for these staggering numbers is the increasing prevalence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is extremely addictive and lethal in tiny doses. Fentanyl is frequently laced (into) other substances, so users often have no knowledge they are ingesting a substance that could result in grave health consequences, including death.”
Led by the local task force, the investigation also drew resources from the Duluth, Superior and Cloquet police departments; St. Louis and Carlton county sheriff's offices; U.S. Marshals Service; Drug Enforcement Administration; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and Department of Homeland Security Investigations.
Arrested as of Wednesday were:
- Nicholas Calloway, 23, Chicago
- Demetrius McCafferty, 34, Chicago
- Jerome Falkner, 24, Chicago
- Michael Berg, 26, Duluth
- Jolisa Henagin, 22, Cloquet
- Madison Pallin, 25, Cloquet
- Amber Wait, 37, Cloquet
- Jonas Starkey, 27, Eveleth
- Hailie Pralle, 23, Ashland
- Michelle Jacobson, 33, Duluth
- Brock Jensen, 24, Duluth
- Brodey Jensen, 24, Duluth
- Mark Scharnott, 33, Duluth
- Alexis Steltz, 24, Duluth
Warrants were outstanding for:
- Chad Mims, 22, Chicago
- Melvin Little, 25, Chicago
- Terry Sallay, 22, Chicago
- Montavian Oliver, 24, Pickens, Mississippi
- Zachery Morris Jr., 22, Minneapolis
- Ryan Vincent, 38, Duluth
- Leonard Kochevar, 39, Gilbert
Anyone with further information is asked to contact the task force at 218-730-5750.
Peer-recovery specialists from the task force's Substance Use Response Team can also provide confidential services to those struggling with addiction by calling 218-730-4009.