CHICAGO, June 21 -- Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged more than three dozen members of a Chicago street gang with running a drug ring that sold crack cocaine, marijuana, heroin and the potentially lethal prescription painkiller fentanyl.
In recent months, fentanyl-laced heroin has been blamed for more than 200 overdose-related deaths across the eastern half of the country, including at least 70 in the Chicago area.
Much of the fentanyl seized in the investigation was packaged for individual use, but none of the seized heroin was found to be mixed with fentanyl, authorities said. The legally produced painkiller is 80 times stronger than morphine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro alleged that the Mickey Cobras gang marketed its drugs to take advantage of the deadly heroin's notoriety, selling products with names such as "Max Pain," "Lethal Injection," "Fear Factor," "Drop Dead" and "Final Call."
"They carry niche marketing to its extreme," Shapiro said. "They sell branded heroin."
None of the defendants had been charged with the fentanyl deaths, he said.
In a series of raids on Wednesday, agents seized more than 100 kilograms of heroin, five firearms, four vehicles and an undetermined amount of cash, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. More than 400 federal and local law en
forcement officers were involved.
The criminal complaint charged 47 members and associates of the gang with conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin, crack cocaine, marijuana and fentanyl.
By early afternoon, 30 people had been arrested, including a Chicago police officer. Tashika Sledge, 29, was accused of having a relationship with a gang leader and of supplying information about police activity.
Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said that many arrests took place at the Dearborn Homes public housing complex, a gang stronghold a few miles south of the Loop, but that the alleged drug ring extends to nearby states. Many of the fatal overdoses tied to fentanyl and heroin occurred earlier this year at Dearborn Homes.
The investigation involved wiretaps, search warrants and drug buys, authorities said. Before Wednesday's arrests, authorities had seized or bought four kilos of heroin, 309 grams of fentanyl, cash and six firearms.
The Mickey Cobras were formed during the 1960s under the name Cobrastones and joined a coalition of smaller street gangs, officials said. The group changed its name to Mickey Cobras after member Mickey Cogwell was shot to death in 1976 during a struggle for leadership of the coalition.