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Police in northern Minnesota bust heroin ring linked to violent Chicago street gang

Six people -- two of them allegedly Chicago gang members -- were charged Friday in St. Louis County District Court in connection to heroin sales in Duluth, and two other alleged gang members are slated to be charged next week.

Six people - two of them allegedly Chicago gang members - were charged Friday in St. Louis County District Court in connection to heroin sales in Duluth, and two other alleged gang members are slated to be charged next week.

“This group has been responsible for a large portion of heroin we’ve seen increase in this area in the past three years,” Duluth police Lt. Jeff Kazel said at a news conference Friday.

The group is tied to a Gangster Disciples’ faction called LAFA, which Kazel described as “a documented violent street gang from the Jeffery Manor neighborhood in Chicago.”

“The LAFA gang members conduct many of the same criminal activity as typical Chicago street gangs to include trafficking of firearms and narcotics, but what separates this LAFA gang is their propensity of violence. Many LAFA gang members rely on robbing and extorting other drug dealers for narcotics and money,” Kazel said.

He said the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force is “always in fear” that drug sales could escalate into violence.

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“This is a very violent gang in Chicago and we definitely don’t want that violence to come here,” he said.

LAFA has been active in Duluth since 2012 and the arrests are the result of a “very significant investigation” by the Duluth Police Department and the Task Force, he said.  

“This is the first really organized gang I’ve seen in this area in a long time. Normally we have individual gang members who come up here and sell, but this is more organized than I’ve seen in the past,” Kazel said.

Why they came to Duluth is a matter of economics, he said.

“We, unfortunately, have a large base of people that are addicted to opioids in this area so in economics ... you’re going to go to an area where more customers are at,” he said. “This area has a lot of propensity for a drug seller to come up here and sell it for three to four times the amount they can get in Chicago or Minneapolis, so it’s ripe for profits.”

According to court documents:

Beginning in August, the task force conducted seven undercover heroin and methamphetamine purchases in Duluth, West Duluth and Hermantown from Akeem Maurice Asad, 24, of Chicago, who is documented as a LAFA member by the Chicago Police Department’s gang unit.

On several occasions, Asad directed the undercover buyer to contact two of his associates, a 25-year-old and 26-year-old who both are LAFA members, about drug purchases because he was out of town getting a new supply of drugs. The two associates have not been charged yet, but Kazel said charges are expected next week. The 26-year-old man is currently in custody in Kane County, Ill., on other drug charges and the 25-year-old man is currently in custody with the Illinois Department of Corrections on a charge of a felon in possession of a firearm.

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Asad was selling out of the apartment of Joey Jules Whitecrow, 38, in the 1500 block of East Second Street and was arrested Tuesday after officers observed him leaving the apartment, according to a criminal complaint. His arrest involved a police chase from West Duluth to Cloquet, where he entered a building and was arrested without incident.

Asad was charged with six counts of felony first-degree controlled substance crime and one count of felony fleeing a police officer, according to the complaint. He is being held in the St. Louis County Jail without bail.

Whitecrow sold heroin to the undercover buyer in September, according to a complaint, and is facing one count of felony third-degree sale of a controlled substance.

Duluth residents Sarah Katherine Denny, 22, and Kayley Patricia-Ann Hey, 19, drove vehicles in which several purchases of heroin and methamphetamine were made from Asad or his 25-year-old associate, according to the complaint. Denny and Hey both are facing one count of felony first-degree aiding and abetting a controlled substance crime and one count of felony second-degree aiding and abetting a controlled substance crime.

On one occasion in December, Carey Ramon Hinton, 23, residence unknown, allegedly was sent by Asad to complete the purchase of methamphetamine with the undercover buyer. Hinton, who Kazel said is also a documented LAFA member, was charged with one count of felony second-degree controlled substance crime. He is being held in St. Louis County Jail on $300,000 bail.

Gregory Jackson, 19, residence unknown, was seen with Asad’s associate during surveillance and was inside a hotel room in Hermantown when a search warrant was executed at the room in September, according to the complaint. Jackson is identified as a LAFA gang associate, not a member, Kazel said. Jackson is charged with two counts of felony first-degree controlled substance crime. He is being held in the St. Louis County Jail on $200,000 bail.

The task force seized 260 grams of heroin with a street value of $52,000, 80 grams of methamphetamine and four firearms from the eight people, Kazel said.

Kazel noted that in this case  neighbors had noticed unusual activity, but hadn’t contacted police. He urged residents to contact police if they see something out of the ordinary in their neighborhood.

Related Topics: CRIME
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