Members of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on Friday revealed the fruits of a monthslong undercover investigation targeting drug traffickers in New Orleans East.
The operation — dubbed “Wild Wild East” — culminated with the announcement of more than 100 arrests and the seizure of 32 guns, nearly $1 million and unspecified quantities of heroin and crack.
Officials said 14 of the arrests happened Thursday.
The latest drug sweep comes as law enforcement grapples with a stubbornly resurgent violent-crime problem in New Orleans. And it marks the first major operation announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, the young prosecutor who stepped into his job a little more than a year ago pledging to reinvigorate his office’s efforts against drug- and gang-related violence.
Polite said the operation began in late July in response to an increase in shootings and murders in New Orleans East. He said the FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New Orleans Police Department and other agencies used wiretaps and undercover buys to go after repeat drug offenders.
His office has indicted 19 of the 111 people who have been arrested, targeting a narrow category of suspects with federal charges. The remainder face state charges.
“Our focus was on high-level narcotics offenders,” Polite said, “and in particular those who we suspect are most likely to utilize violence as a way of enforcing their narcotics trafficking enterprises.”
New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said the investigation started when he was still commander of the 7th District, which covers New Orleans East. He said Special Agent Raymond “Keith” Brown of the DEA proposed the joint operation because both departments were seeing a spike in violence in the area.
“This is the new law enforcement model in New Orleans,” Harrison said. “We are not separate teams. We are all one team.”
Brown said the focus was on heroin trafficking tied to Latin America. “Every bindle of heroin, every gram of cocaine on the streets of New Orleans flows from the drug cartels of Mexico and Colombia,” he said.
Polite highlighted the indictment last week of Gross Williams, 49, and his wife Kathleen, 46, a couple accused of distributing both heroin and cocaine.
The husband owns Boss Used Cars in Arabi, and the couple allegedly used the dealership to launder money from a large-scale drug operation. They have forfeited almost $700,000 in allegedly ill-gotten gains.
The indictment also claims Gross Williams kept a firearm used in dealing drugs and illegally possessed a weapon after a felony conviction.
Polite also mentioned the arrest of Tyrone “Big Boy” Taylor, one of the 19 suspects who face federal charges. A search of his home, Polite said, resulted in the seizure of several guns, heroin and more than $100,000 in proceeds from drug sales.
According to court records, Taylor was arrested in late August and indicted in early September. The August criminal complaint detailed how DEA agents tapped two of Taylor’s phone calls as he allegedly arranged the delivery of five ounces of heroin to a Walgreens pharmacy parking lot in New Orleans East.
His trial is set for May.
Coming on the heels of the conviction of several gang-affiliated members Thursday in two New Orleans shooting deaths, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said the investigation should serve as a wake-up call.
“With far too many people in our city concerning themselves with such distractions as the Super Bowl and their Mardi Gras plans,” Cannizzaro said, “people in our community have been lulled into a false sense of normalcy with regards to the city of New Orleans.”
The DA said New Orleans is dealing with “urban terrorists.”
“To the criminals,” he said, “we are coming. Make no mistake about it.”