Updated: 04/18/2014 7:19 AM
Created: 04/17/2014 3:48 PM KSTP.com
By: Steve Tellier
Officials say they've struck at the heart of international drug cartels trafficking heroin in Minnesota.
It's hard to overstate the human toll the drug is taking in Minnesota; it's caused families to endure so much pain -- both physical and emotional. Officials hope Thursday's massive operation helps turn the tide in the fight against the terrible drug.
"We've punched organized crime right in the face," said Jack Riley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Midwest for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The investigation's name fits it perfectly: Operation Exile, an effort to rid Minnesota of the scourge of heroin.
"We're going to attack these organizations and do everything in our power to disrupt and dismantle them so they can't spread the poison on the streets of Minnesota," Riley said.
The preparation took weeks. The raids took one day. By Thursday afternoon, law enforcement agencies across Minnesota had made 65 arrests in seven counties and seized almost five pounds of heroin along with seven firearms and $250,000 in cash. Those numbers are expected to climb.
"Today, we sent a clear message to heroin dealers -- we do not want you in Hennepin County, they don't want you in Ramsey County, Dakota, Anoka, you name it," said Richard Stanek, the Hennepin County Sheriff.
On Wednesday, 5 EYEWITNESS News went inside the Minneapolis Police Department's property and evidence unit -- more than 120 bags filled with heroin, all seized this year. Operation Exile targeted the supply chain that brought them here, which stretches from South America through Mexico, where drug cartels control its journey north to the U.S.
"The people arrested today represent a critical mass of drug traffickers in our state, and they are now out of business," said Andrew Luger, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota.
But even Luger admits that much work remains to be done.
"We know that we cannot solve the heroin problem through arrests alone, but we cannot allow international heroin cartels to bring this deadly powder to our streets," Luger said.
The operation involved multiple agencies on the state, local, and federal level -- it was a carefully coordinated effort that relied on cooperation and the sharing of information between and among many entities. The operation involved agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF, ICE, U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Criminal of Apprehension as well as a number of local, state and federal law enforcement from Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, St. Louis, Olmsted and Washington Counties.
Minnesota health officials earlier this year said nearly 300 people have died in heroin-related deaths in the past 15 years. But they also reported a big jump recently, with one-third of the deaths last year alone.
Andrew Terrell Davis, Samuel Salazar-Sosa, Christian Lescas-Aragon, Anthony Morrison, Juan Medina-Pacheco, and Christhian Rene Hernandez-Satary have been charged with various heroin trafficking crimes.
More charges are expected along with additional arrests.
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.