U.S. Attorney Brandon Fremin announced Tuesday the indictments of dozens of defendants who authorities say were part of Baton Rouge area-based drug trafficking network, marking the beginning of the largest prosecution in known history for the Middle District of Louisiana's federal court. 

Following a lengthy federal investigation, Fremin said 41 people were charged last week with more than 80 counts of narcotics and firearms-related offenses, leading to many of their arrests.  

"This is, we believe, the largest number of defendants in a single prosecution for these types of crimes ... in the history of this district," said Fremin, who started his new job as U.S. Attorney last week. "Our number one goal... is to ensure the public safety. This is not about filling jails, filling prisons, it's about ensuring our communities and neighborhoods are safe."

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The defendants were charged with various counts of conspiring to possess and distribute methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and crack cocaine, as well as distributing the drugs and the unlawful use of communication facilities while committing drug trafficking. Several were also charged with illegally possessing firearms. While Fremin did not label the 41 indicted people as being part of a gang, he said they were working for a "major drug trafficking organization." 

"To those that are plaguing our nation with the drug trafficking and violence, the message is clear: it will not be tolerated and we will relentlessly pursue you and bring you to justice," said Brad Byerley, the assistant special agent in charge for the Baton Rouge office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Byerley said at least 32 of the 41 people named in the indictments have been arrested. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to disclose the status of the other nine people, citing operational security. 

The indictments and arrests stemmed from a months-long investigation led by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration, supported by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Louisiana State Police. Many other local law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Ascension, Iberville and West Baton Rouge Parishes Sheriff's Offices, assisted in the arrests. 

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said community members were also crucial to the operation's success. 

"This long investigation would not have ended with the success that we had without help from the community," Paul said. "It is important that the community continue to give us information related to violent crime in the city of Baton Rouge. We cannot do it without your help."

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These indictments were not part of the violent crime strike force announced by the U.S. Attorney Office in October, but instead stemmed from a longer-established effort known as the Middle District Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Task Force, said first assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson. Though separate, Amundson said the concepts behind the two efforts are similar. 

The three lengthy indictments focus on the drug trafficking networks allegedly orchestrated by James C. Hull, known as "Fat Boy," Travis R. James, and Bryron A. Lawson, known as "B." Prosecutors lay out how all three of the men bought and distributed narcotics — their paths intertwining — spanning Houston, Baton Rouge, Prairieville and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, throughout the first half of 2017.

According to the indictments, Baton Rouge resident Hull often bought drugs from Lawson, distributing them for profit to at least 16 other Baton Rouge residents charged in the drug bust. Lawson often bought his drugs from James, the indictments say. 

"Hull mostly 'fronted' or supplied customers, on a credit basis, heroin, cocaine base, and methamphetamine, expecting his customers, in turn, to distribute those narcotics to others and thereafter repay Hull with the money they gathered," one indictment says.

James engaged in a similar practice as Hull, the indictments say, except with cocaine and crack cocaine. James is accused of organizing at least 12 other people charged in the case to help him buy and sell the drugs. 

The indictments cite specific phone calls and text messages from Hull, James, Lawson and the other 38 people charged, detailing how the alleged drug traffickers coordinated sales with one another and customers, as well as where and when they met up. Once, Hull called on a jail phone from East Baton Rouge Parish Prison instructing another Baton Rouge man to sell drugs and use the money to pay his bond, the indictment says. 

The indictments say those charged sold the narcotics at "gas stations, retail stores, restaurants and residential neighborhoods in and around Baton Rouge." 

"The work is not done, we will continue on," said Fremin. "We are committed and we will remain steadfast in our efforts."

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.