Drug ring probe nets 14 in Ohio

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Authorities in Steubenville, Ohio, where the top county prosecutor was recently given federal powers to battle drugs and violence, say they've made a sizable dent in the Ohio Valley heroin trade.

Fourteen people are under indictment by dual grand juries investigating a ring accused of shipping 23 kilos from Chicago into Steubenville and neighboring towns over the past two years.

Federal and local authorities announced the charges last week in Steubenville, saying they are the result of a joint effort to crack down on a spike in narcotics trafficking and shootings.

The problem had grown to the point where in October, the U.S. attorney's office in Columbus made the unprecedented move to appoint Jane Hanlin, the Jefferson County prosecutor, as a special assistant U.S. attorney.

She said she welcomed the appointment because her county has seen an influx of drug distribution, especially from out-of-state sources.

Many of those charged last week are from Chicago. Most had been arrested earlier this month and in November by a drug task force comprised of local police, the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The six under federal indictment, all with Chicago ties, are charged with drug dealing and related firearms offenses that could put them in federal prison for 15 years, because the penalties in federal court are much stiffer than in state courts.

The suspects charged locally by a Jefferson County grand jury also include three from Chicago as well as several from Steubenville and nearby Weirton, W.Va. Ms. Hanlin and Carter Stewart, the U.S. attorney in Columbus, said the case was a "turning point" in fighting heroin dealers plaguing the small towns in the region.

Drug task force officers swept through the area two weeks ago with search warrants and arrested several Chicago natives, including Kinlawyed Hendrix, 27, who had been living in Steubenville, and Joseph Dennis, 30, who was living in Toronto, Ohio. Another Chicago native, Calvin Bryant, 26, of Canton, Ohio, was arrested the previous week.

The other defendants are: Robert Simmons Jr., 19, of Steubenville; Jessie Birden, 21, of Steubenville; Berryon Moore III, 25, of Steubenville; Lavinia Hearon, 29, of Chicago; Jacari Benson, 30, of Weirton; Frederick McGowan, 39, of Madison, Wisc.; Robert Jackson, 32, of Steubenville; Harry Stackhouse, 25, of Steubenville; Rashann Mukes, 28, of Steubenville; Kyle Irvin, 29, of Chicago; and Charles Thompson, 24, of Chicago.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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