The T-shirts worn by the men who worked Monroeville read, "100 Bricks at a Time," but their business wasn't masonry, according to federal prosecutors.
"Brick" is a slang term for tightly packed packages of heroin -- sometimes weighing a kilogram -- and the gang that called itself "Bricks-R-Us" or B.R.U. sold it with a shocking degree of openness, according to U.S. Attorney David Hickton.
"They brazenly conducted most of their drug trafficking in the Monroeville business district," Mr. Hickton said at a news conference Thursday, after the morning and early afternoon arrests of around 30 of 44 people charged with involvement in the ring. "It is certainly unusual that this group was so open about conducting these transactions in a brazen fashion in a business district."
The heroin flowed, according to Mr. Hickton and Patrick Fallon, FBI assistant special agent in charge, from Newark, N.J., to Pittsburgh, and into not just the Business Route 22 corridor but communities as far away as Armstrong and Cambria counties.
Other than Isaiah Cross, 24, of Newark, all of the defendants are from Pennsylvania. Mr. Hickton's office released a list indicating that 11 are from the city of Pittsburgh, five from Duquesne and three from Kittanning. Munhall, Monroeville, Turtle Creek, Wilkins and Indiana were home to two defendants apiece. Others hailed from West Mifflin, McKees Rocks, McKeesport, Export, the Claridge area of Penn Township, Greensburg, Verona, Wilmerding, Ford City, Rural Valley, Plum, Penn Hills, Nazareth and Wilkinsburg, according to the list.
Mr. Cross and seven other defendants originally were indicted a month ago on charges including possession with intent to distribute heroin, and they now face a more detailed superseding indictment. Mr. Cross pleaded not guilty May 6, and his attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In addition to drug-dealing counts, three of the defendants face charges of using people under the age of 18 in their operations. Those defendants are Terell Evans, 21, of Monroeville; Paris Wilson, 22, of Monroeville; and Dominique Harvey, 22, of Plum.
Mr. Hickton said the minors were used to deliver heroin to customers.
"This is a problem that's increasing," he said. "They're children, under the age of 18, sometimes all the way down to the junior high level."
He said some are referred for adjudication to juvenile courts, but the main point is to encourage them to "not go down this way of life."
The arrests occurred in a series of morning raids involving more than 200 law enforcement officers from dozens of agencies. No officers were injured, according to Mr. Fallon. Efforts to capture the remaining defendants continued. He was confident they would be rounded up.
Around $500,000 in cash and drugs and guns were seized in the arrests, Mr. Hickton said.
The roundup was led by the FBI, which was joined by the state Attorney General's Office, the Allegheny County sheriffs and police from Wilkinsburg, Munhall, Duquesne, Monroeville, West Mifflin and Pittsburgh.
The roundup was not connected to an ongoing national probe into heroin laced with fentanyl that caused dozens of deaths in the area early this year, Mr. Hickton said.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published May 29, 2014 9:15 AM