SWAT raids drug gang in Cleveland with ties to Chicago-based Latin Kings

drug bust

Pre-dawn raids result in 29 arrests

Friday, August 14, 2009
Peter Krouse
Plain Dealer Reporter

Pre-dawn raids by several SWAT teams Thursday disrupted a major Cleveland drug ring with ties to a national criminal gang, local law enforcement officials said.

The raids coincided with the indictment of 34 people on drug charges. A dozen of those indicted are affiliated with the Latin Kings, a criminal gang based in Chicago, but with members throughout the country, said Frank Figliuzzi, head of the FBI office in Cleveland.

Federal agents in recent years said street gangs in Cleveland were loosely organized groups of men and teens from the same neighborhood, without a formal hierarchy or national network.

The discovery of the Latin Kings in Cleveland represents the first known presence of a national gang in the area, Figliuzzi said.

Local gang members have claimed affiliation with national gangs such as the Bloods and Crips of Los Angeles in the past, but the FBI believes those were questionable.

Twenty-nine people were arrested Thursday. The round-up followed a year-long investigation dubbed Operation Royal Flush in which officers from the Cleveland Police Department, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Regional Transit Authority and FBI listened in on more than 16,000 phone calls.

The investigation began by targeting local Latin Kings selling drugs on the near West Side, but grew into a much larger conspiracy involving heroin, cocaine and a variety of participants.

The group brought at least one kilogram of heroin into Cleveland every month, Figliuzzi said.

The ring’s main drug couriers into Cleveland were Vincente Benitez, a 46-year-old illegal Dominican national living in Cleveland, and his common-law wife Adriana Ventura, 33, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Pinjuh said. They drove to New York City at least twice a week and returned with drugs.

Pinjuh said the investigation has expanded into whether some drugs came by boat from the Dominican Republic to New York City.

The investigation also foiled a scheme to defraud the CheckSmart store at 4263 Fulton Road, prosecutors said.

Defendants Johana Sanchez, 31, and Eliezer Morales, 24, worked at the CheckSmart and gave out fraudulent loans, usually in $600 amounts, with direction from Melvin Torres, a suspected affiliate of the Latin Kings. Sanchez was Torres’s girlfriend, prosecutors said.

Torres, 34, was a major player in the drug ring. He was on about 100 drug-related phone calls a day during the investigation, Pinjuh said.

“You could go there for anything, any kind of drug and he was open 24-7,” Pinjuh said.

Posted by on Aug 14 2009. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “SWAT raids drug gang in Cleveland with ties to Chicago-based Latin Kings”

  1. DawgcityClev

    These police are liars. The first known national gang in the Cleveland area? Really? Vice Lords, Black P Stones and Gangster Disciples were well known and saturated within the city throughout the 90’s and mid 80’s. The Latin Kings were strong on the westside since the early 90’s along with the Maniac Latin Disciples. You walk down 131st between miles and union is raining Vice Lords. These people insist on reporting lies and deceit throughout the news.

  2. Blunts&PagerS


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