CLEVELAND -- Seventy-two people were indicted in federal court for their roles in a conspiracy to sell crack cocaine on the city's east side.
Four of those indicted are also accused of taking part in shooting and robbery of a Euclid man in January. That shooting led to a manhunt throughout Euclid and Cleveland.
An additional 14 people were indicted in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on state drug charges.
The indictment is believed to be the largest ever filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, in terms of number of defendants. At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, FBI agents said 70 people are in custody and 16 fugitives remain on the loose. Several people were also arrested in Kentucky and Georgia.
"I've had first hand dealings with some of these wonderful individuals. I know exactly what they've done. In fact one of them I've been dealing with since he was 14 years of age and I sent him a love letter when he was 14 years of age and I told him I can't wait until he's 18, well guess what? He's over 18! And the time has come for him to pay up and to be responsible," said Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek. "Alot of this work came about as a result from citizens standing up and providing information, so I want to thank those citizens especially on the northeast side who stood up, didn't bury their heads in the sand."
"This investigation and 97-count indictment represent a top-to-bottom dismantlement of a violent criminal organization intent on polluting our neighborhood with drugs," said FBI Special Agent Stephen Anthony.
The drug conspiracy took place between 2011 and May 2012. Authorities say the major crack/cocaine operation also involved money laundering and guns.
"Operation Northwest Express was a straight ahead drug conspiracy with people bringing kilogram quantities of narcotics into our area, from a distribution networks on the east coast into our neighborhoods," said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach.