Investigators have dismantled three drug trafficking rings in Arkansas and arrested 15 additional people on Wednesday in the third major law enforcement operation in October. It was all part of an effort to disrupt the flow of the drug fentanyl, said Cody Hiland, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The arrests were part of an ongoing sting operation that began in June 2018, in which officers from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Little Rock field office went undercover in three major drug rings -- dubbed Clifton Williams, Desmond Kelley and Monterrio Fuller Drug Trafficking Organizations -- to take down the major distributors of the fatal opioid. Fentanyl contributed to over 70,000 deaths in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The three separate investigations -- two which are being handled by the FBI and the third by the DEA -- resulted in 49 indictments and dozens of federal charges of drug and firearm offenses.
"Large amounts of high-quality, low-cost heroin and fentanyl are contributing to a record number of overdose deaths and life-threatening addictions nationwide," Scott Reinhardt, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Little Rock office, said at a press conference. "To address this, in the last few months, the Little Rock field office and the FBI, in collaboration with its partners, have arrested 45 individuals who were directly involved in the sale and distribution of opioids, including heroin and fentanyl."
Reinhardt said officers seized a total of 1,600 grams of fentanyl -- the equivalent of 25,000 doses of the drug-- as well as 5,000 fentanyl pills, 21,000 grams of methamphetamine, 53,000 grams of cocaine and 28 firearms from the three groups.
A total of 23 defendants were indicted from the Clifton Williams Drug Trafficking Organization.
In addition, Williams employed associates who were part of the Piru Bloods gang and were operating out of west Little Rock, where they conducted drug transactions at "prominent retail locations," although Hiland declined to specify the name of the store.
"We are faced with a real crisis as it relates to the potency of this drug," Hiland said.
"I think that it's important to note that this is being mixed with heroin and cocaine and methamphetamines and even being laced with marijuana. People that are using the other drugs have a real opportunity to face a fatal overdose and they've got no idea what's coming," he added.
Seventeen people are facing 37 charges having ties to the Desmond Kelly Drug Trafficking Organization. As of Wednesday afternoon, authorities said only one man, identified as Jamie Goff, was still on the loose.
FBI officials will also charge nine people from the Monterrio Fuller Drug Trafficking Organization with 21 counts of drug and firearm-related offenses.
Justin King, assistant special agent of the DEA Little Rock office, said that the drugs were "mostly always coming out of China" and were being funneled to Arkansas "from Mexico coming across the border."