Article updated: 8/28/2013 10:25 PM
31 charged in DuPage County heroin bust
By Josh Stockinger
Calling heroin deaths a regional “epidemic,” authorities on Wednesday announced charges against 31 people accused of peddling the drug for a massive distribution network in Cook and DuPage counties. DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin said the charges stem from an extensive investigation that began in February and involved numerous law enforcement agencies and more than 17 court-authorized wiretaps.
The case comes as fatal heroin overdoses have skyrocketed locally, with 70 in DuPage since January 2012 alone, according to Berlin. “We have a heroin epidemic in this county,” he said. “(The) charges send a message to those drug dealers who are peddling ... the poison that is killing the citizens of this county. It sends a message that those drug dealers will be caught, they will be arrested, they will be charged, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
At the “top of the pyramid,” Berlin said, was Andres Garcia, 26, of Chicago, who is accused of using “lieutenants” and “runners” to supply kilograms of raw, uncut heroin to suburban customers. Prosecutors said the operation generated $2,500 to $3,000 a day.
The investigation began after authorities executed a search warrant in Carol Stream, seized more than 20 grams of heroin and obtained information about a widespread drug ring.
Altogether, 31 people from Cook and DuPage counties have been charged. At least 26 had been taken into custody as of Wednesday, authorities said.
The case is the first to be prosecuted in DuPage under the state's new Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) law.
Jack Riley, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office, said the alleged drug ring was “clearly the work of surrogates of the Mexican cartels,” which provide 80 percent to 90 percent of the heroin trafficked throughout the Midwest.
“This is the new face of organized crime — don't kid yourself,” said Riley, whose office was involved in the investigation. “This is the way we're going to do business from this point forward,” he said. “We're going to go after organizations, from the people putting it on the street, from the people transporting it, all the way down to the source of supply — wherever that takes us.”
Twenty-two defendants, including Garcia, appeared in bond court Wednesday on various charges ranging from heroin possession to racketeering and unlawful criminal drug conspiracy. Judge Elizabeth Sexton set bails of $75,000 to $1.5 million.
Investigators from the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group and more than a dozen police agencies including Addison, Glen Ellyn, Lombard and Naperville “spent thousands of hours listening to phone calls, conducting surveillance, executing traffic stops and also interviewing numerous people” throughout the six-month investigation, Berlin said.
Berlin described the alleged drug ring as “very methodical.” He said the group, consisting mostly of Chicago residents, brought heroin into the suburbs and sold it to suburban users in the city. “Unfortunately, I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We busted a huge organization, but others are out there.”
Berlin, who said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are possible, attributed the climb in heroin deaths to the drug being “10 times more powerful” and addictive than it was decades ago.
Riley had a message for those still dealing: “You better be looking over your shoulder, because we're coming,” he said.
All of the defendants are scheduled to appear before Judge Robert Kleeman in September.
Four men face charges after 27-pound marijuana bust
By Josh Stockinger
Four men accused of receiving 27 pounds of marijuana by mail appeared Friday in DuPage County bond court on drug-trafficking charges.
David Byun, 29, of Round Lake; Brian Panezich, 29, of Lake Zurich; and Landry Park, 29, and Ted Park, 32, both of Arlington Heights, each were held on $500,000 bail.
Prosecutors said the men were arrested Thursday after a drug-sniffing dog alerted on a package at a UPS store in Bensenville. Investigators with the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group later watched as Byun picked up the package and left in a vehicle driven by Panezich, Assistant State’s Attorney Anne Therieau said. Police found 12 pounds of marijuana in the package after a traffic stop
During the investigation, Byun admitted receiving drug shipments addressed to a fake company he set up and told officers Landry Park retrieved a second package earlier on Thursday, prosecutors said.
That led police to review surveillance footage, which showed Park picking up a package described in court as a “large trash bag inside a laundry basket.” Therieau said Landry and Ted Park, whom she identified as cousins, were seen with the package when police arrived at their apartment a short time later.
In the second package, authorities found 15 pounds of marijuana. Therieau said Landry Park also had cocaine on him and more than 30 grams inside the apartment.
Authorities said Byun, Panezich and Landry Park all admitted their roles in the scheme, telling officers they were paid marijuana or cash for retrieving drug shipments. One defendant told police the drugs were to be delivered to a person in Chicago.
Judge Elizabeth Sexton set bail at $500,000 for all four suspects, meaning they would each have to post $50,000 to bond out of jail. They return to court later this month.
Woodridge drug dealer gets 20 years
By Steve Zalusky Article updated: 2/21/2013 9:33 PM
A Woodridge man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for operating a Chicago-area drug ring.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Thursday the sentencing of Dorian Luzaj, 29, of the 6300 block of Winston Drive. Thursday morning, Luzaj entered a plea of guilty to one felony count of cannabis trafficking in front of Judge Robert Kleeman, who handed down the sentence. Luzaj, who has been in custody since May 20, 2010, will be required to serve 50 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole.
Luzaj was the leader of a drug ring with ties to California that was responsible for the distribution of more than 600 pounds of cannabis per month to other dealers throughout the area.
On May 20, 2010, Luzaj, along with 11 others, were arrested on drug conspiracy charges. The charges were the result of a seven-month investigation conducted by the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office in conjunction with the state attorney general’s office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group and several local law enforcement agencies. Dubbed “Operation Chicago Haze,” the efforts resulted in 12 arrests and the seizure of approximately $1 million, 11 vehicles and five weapons.
“Today’s sentencing is the culmination of a great deal of outstanding work by law enforcement at all levels,” Berlin said. “As I have said in the past, drug dealers do not recognize boundaries, and to be successful in our fight against drug dealers, it is critical that we all work together.”
Itasca shopkeeper gets probation for synthetic drugs
By Josh Stockinger Article updated: 6/17/2013 1:20 PM
An Itasca shopkeeper has been sentenced to two years of probation for carrying synthetic marijuana in his store.
Sureshbhai Patel, 54, of Des Plaines, pleaded guilty Friday to felony possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced by DuPage County Judge Daniel Guerin, according to court records. Patel was charged in June 2012 after investigators with the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group seized about 75 grams of synthetic marijuana from Itasca Tobacco, 1215 W. Irving Park Road.
Police said Patel was aware the substance had been banned in Illinois but continued to stock it off-site and sell it to interested customers. He and co-worker James Barker of Itasca were arrested after investigators conducted a series of undercover purchases, authorities said. The charges against Barker, 29, were dismissed in January, according to court records.
Patel, of the 2000 block of Pine Street, could have faced up to three years in prison if convicted at trial. He received credit for one day served in the county jail. Court records show Patel also faces ordinance violations alleging he sold drug paraphernalia and violated a zoning code by distributing pornography. He’s due back in court Tuesday.