BOSTON — Law enforcement officials have broken up a Merrimack Valley-based narcotics ring, arresting 12 individuals and seizing sizable quantities of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.
The arrests, announced Thursday by Attorney General Maura Healey's office, are the result of a two-year long investigation targeting narcotics distribution and sales in New England that involved more than 150 local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
Authorities seized more than 24 kilos of narcotics, about $100,000 cash and four handguns during raids Wednesday at 14 undisclosed locations in Methuen and Lawrence.
Healey called the bust the "largest take down of a major opioid trafficking operation" in the history of her office. Law enforcement officials used undercover agents and high-tech surveillance techniques to unravel a "sophisticated narcotics operation that spanned the region and was overseen by higher ups as far away as New Jersey."
"To put this in context, the 24 kilos that we seized represents millions of dollars worth of drugs," Healey told reporters at a briefing. "More importantly, it represents hundreds of thousands of lethal doses of drugs that have been kept from affecting communities in our state."
Jon DeLena, associate special agent in charge of the DEA's New England Field Division, said the dismantling of the drug ring will have a measurable impact on the deadly fentanyl trade.
"We have witnessed the destruction that the opioid epidemic has brought to our neighborhoods," he told reporters. "Every time we take fentanyl off the streets it saves lives."
Methuen police Capt. James Jajuga said the illicit drug trade "has a direct and detrimental impact on countless lives and knows no boundaries — geographic, economic or otherwise."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin and blamed for a majority of the overdose deaths last year in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.
More than 2,000 people in Massachusetts died of opioid related overdoses last year. Fentanyl was detected in toxicology tests in 90% of those cases.
Federal, state and local law enforcement have made several high-profile busts in the Merrimack Valley over the past two years, many of which have involved fentanyl.
In October, dozens of people were arrested on federal drug, weapons and immigration charges after authorities broke up fentanyl-dealing operations in Lawrence, seizing more than 10 kilos of the deadly synthetic opioid — enough to kill half of the state, officials said. The raids arrested at least 50 people — many of whom were living in the country illegally.
The busts come more than a year after federal authorities broke up another Lawrence-based fentanyl ring operating as a dial-up service and selling drugs across the region. In that case, more than 30 people — including some who were previously deported — were arrested on federal drug, firearm and immigration charges following a yearlong investigation.
Last April, authorities seized more than 32 kilos of fentanyl with an estimated street value of nearly $29 million after a traffic stop in Methuen.
Healey said her office is collaborating with local and federal law enforcement agencies as part of a "fentanyl strike force" which has seized 227 kilos of fentanyl and heroin, 14,000 opioid pills, $6 million in cash and made more than 300 arrests in recent years. The task force is funded, in part, by a $3 million U.S. Department of Justice grant.
"We're dismantling major drug networks and we're taking millions of lethal doses of heroin and fentanyl off the street," she said. "Every drug we take the street is potentially a life saved."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the people arrested Wednesday in a local, state and federal drug sweep:
Ramon Cruz-Gonzalez, 45, of Methuen
Israel Santiago Ortiz (AKA "Simpson"), 39, of Methuen
Robinson Adames Abreu (AKA "Papa"), 52, of Methuen
Alberto Santana Santos, 36, of Methuen
Omar Acevedo (aka "Prieto"), 37, of Methuen
Jhonny Mota-Rodriguez, 24, of Lawrence
Jose Lugo-Garcia, 21, of Lawrence
Jason Emory, 43, of Lawrence
Cirio Delores Acevedo, 36, of Lawrence
Yeltsin De La Cruz, 28, of Lawrence
Raul Martinez, 32, of Lawrence
Sulerka Mercado, 37, of Methuen
Source: Attorney General Maura Healey's office