Updated March 9, 2018 at 4:55 p.m.
Nine of 12 individuals charged in U.S. District Court in Ohio in a narcotics and money laundering scheme are in custody following a year-long FBI investigation. More than 40 others are charged in San Diego, Columbus, Lexington, Kansas and Washington in a case with ties to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.
The federal indictment filed by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin Glassman alleges those charged transported and sold fentanyl and heroin from Mexico in Middletown. Proceeds were then laundered in San Diego and sent to the cartel in Mexico. Similar transactions played out around the country and indictments are being announced in those districts as well.
"I think it makes a big dent in the (drug) trade in Middletown," Glassman says. "If you think about the fight against opioids here in southern Ohio like a boxing match, this isn't a knockout blow. This is a body blow in round two that the opponent is going to feel."
While Glassman won't give exact figures he estimates about a million dollars from Middletown drug sales was laundered through San Diego. He says the total amount laundered nationwide is in the neighborhood of $10 million.
The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the most well-known Mexican drug gangs, led by infamous drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán who famously escaped from a Mexican prison through a tunnel in 2015. He was later caught and extradited to the U.S. where he's awaiting trial.
A reserve auxiliary Seven Mile police officer is among those in custody. The complaint alleges Christopher Watkins was recruited by the cartel because of his knowledge of law enforcement.
The Seven Mile police chief, in a posting on Facebook, says Watkins "sworn in as a police officer but has never worked one minute in that position."
Law enforcement in the U.S. are working with their counterparts in Mexico to apprehend the three Mexican cartel members charged in the indictment.
"I view it as likely," says Glassman when asked about the chances of finding and arresting those three. "This is an international effort to arrest and then extradite those folks. I believe it will happen."
Glassman says Thursday's announcement is significant for three reasons. "We're talking about a large quantity of fentanyl and heroin and drug proceeds. Number two because this... takes off the street and dismantles a significant drug trafficking organization in Middletown, Ohio. But, number three, is that the investigation doesn't end there. Rather, this investigation has traced the source of the fentanyl and heroin back to the original source of supply in Mexico - the Sinaloa Cartel - and charges that source of supply."
He adds that this is just one piece of the fight against the heroin epidemic.
"The opioid crisis that we're experiencing here is the public health and safety crisis of our lifetimes," Glassman says. "Enforcement is only one part of solving it. Obviously, we need prevention and treatment as well. But, enforcement is a crucial piece, especially if we can increase the cost of doing business."