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Press Release

Major Takedown Dismantles Multi-State Heroin and Fentanyl Network

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Project Huntington: Operation Saigon Sunset Takes At Least 450 Grams of Fentanyl – Enough to Kill More than 250,000 People -- Off Streets

United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced today a major takedown of drug traffickers and related drug networks recently indicted by a federal grand jury in Huntington, as well as other narcotics, violent crime and firearm related targets.  Joining United States Attorney Stuart in the announcement were Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Chris Evans, Federal Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Nick Boshears, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special  Agent in Charge (SAC) Stuart Lowrey, Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Dave Abbate, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, Huntington Interim Police Chief Hank Dial, West Virginia State Police Captain Mike LaFauci, West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General James Hoyer, Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean “Corky” Hammers, U.S. Marshal Michael Baylous, Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle, Wayne County Sheriff Rick Thompson, Marshall University Police Chief Jim Terry and AHIDTA State Director Kenny Burner.

In response to a growing opiate epidemic and violent crime in southern West Virginia, United States Attorney Stuart announced the formation of Project Huntington on March 15th alongside federal, state and local law enforcement partners.  Today, in a takedown of federal and state targets, nearly 100 defendants have been targeted for arrest including the execution of Operation Saigon Sunset and related search warrants in Huntington, WV.  It is believed that today’s actions will result in the dismantling of the Peterson Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO), a major multi-state heroin and fentanyl distribution network.  In addition to the dismantling of the Peterson DTO, federal, state and local law enforcement are executing arrests for related violent elements including narcotics and firearms targets. 

Today’s actions break down as follows:

  • At least 15 individuals involved in the Peterson DTO have been charged in a federal indictment in the Southern District of West Virginia with conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl;
  • 15 individuals involved in the Peterson DTO were indicted yesterday in Cabell County Circuit Court on state charges;
  • Additional members of the Peterson DTO will be arrested and charged in Detroit;
  • 13 individuals involved in narcotics and/or firearms that have been charged in federal indictments in the Southern District of West Virginia; and
  • At least 48 individuals are targeted for arrest on various narcotics, violent crime, and firearms related charges at the federal or state level as determined by the circumstances of each matter.

As an indication of the scale of the operation, over 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officers took part in today’s take-down effort.  The West Virginia National Guard also provided a number of personnel in a support function to the operation. 

Today’s actions would not have been possible without the seamless collaboration of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.  The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Violent Crime and Drug Task Force West, with assistance from the Michigan State Police and the Ohio Highway Patrol.    The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia and the Eastern District of Michigan, as well as the Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, worked together hand-in-hand to remove these dangerous drug traffickers from the streets of Huntington and Detroit.

In conjunction with the arrest and search warrants executed in Huntington today, it is anticipated federal authorities in Detroit will soon be executing additional arrest warrants and search warrants.  Additional charges will be brought against individuals in the Eastern District of Michigan.  

“Our great country has never seen drug deaths like we’re seeing today,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “Under President Trump’s strong leadership, the Department of Justice has taken historic new actions to put drug traffickers in jail and keep dangerous drugs out of the wrong hands.  I want to thank all of our partners at DEA, FBI, ATF, the Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, as well as our fabulous partners at the state and local levels for their hard work.  Today’s charges against at least 90 defendants will help make the people of West Virginia and Michigan safer from the threat of dangerous drugs—and they bring us one step closer to ending the opioid epidemic.” 

“Today’s actions have removed from our streets enough fentanyl to kill more than 250,000 people and massive amounts of other drugs that would have wreaked havoc and misery on our good citizens.  Today is a turning point for the City of Huntington and in the war against the opiate nightmare,” said US Attorney Stuart. “Best yet, today’s actions have resulted in the destruction of a supply network, the supplier of suppliers of illicit drugs.  The peddlers of poisons like heroin and fentanyl are in the crosshairs of this Administration and law enforcement.  We still have work to do but the days of havoc, chaos and misery caused by the peddlers of illicit poisons are soon to be over.”  

“Today, on tax day, the citizens of Huntington and the surrounding area got their money’s worth, said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.  “Thanks to the coordination of our federal, state and local law enforcement agencies our city is safer.  I thank United States Attorney Mike Stuart and Major General Jim Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard for their steadfast support.  The men and women of every law enforcement agency are owed a monumental debt of gratitude for placing their lives in harm’s way to make our families safe.”

The investigation revealed that the Peterson DTO had been operating in Huntington for nearly 15 years, trafficking large amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine from Detroit to be sold in Huntington in street-level gram quantities.  In August 2017, investigators with the Violent Crime and Drug Task Force West (“VCDTFW”) executed a search warrant at Manget Peterson’s residence and an associated hotel room, where Manget Peterson’s workers were distributing heroin.  These searches resulted in the seizure of two handguns, over seventy half gram baggies of heroin ready for distribution, and other evidence of drug trafficking.  Manget Peterson’s brother, Willie Peterson, was identified as the leader and drug supplier of the organization.  Multiple sources advised that the Peterson DTO distributed kilogram quantities of heroin in Huntington, West Virginia, on nearly a weekly basis, using a network of re-distributors. 

Law enforcement learned that the DEA in Detroit had opened an investigation into Willie Peterson, after a search of his residence in July 2017 resulted in the seizure of over 360 grams of fentanyl.  The DEA’s investigations in West Virginia and in Detroit have resulted in investigators seizing additional drug loads and to the identification of two of Willie Peterson’s drug suppliers in Detroit, Michigan.  As of April 3, 2018, law enforcement has seized approximately 760 grams of suspected heroin, 450 grams of suspected fentanyl, and 167 grams of suspected cocaine.  The fentanyl seized prior to today’s actions could have resulted in the death of more than 250,000 people. 

This morning, Manget Peterson was apprehended in Huntington and his brother, Willie Peterson, was apprehended in Detroit.  Malcolm Simmons was also arrested in Detroit this morning.

According to Chris Evans, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Louisville Division Office, “Today’s round-up sends a clear message to the people of Huntington and all of West Virginia:  drug traffickers who come here to destroy our communities will be aggressively pursued by DEA, in conjunction with West Virginia’s federal, state and local law enforcement components.”

“ATF is committed to working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office to reduce violent crime in Huntington,” said Stuart Lowrey, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in West Virginia and Kentucky.  “Together we will identify and investigate armed violent offenders and their illicit sources of guns.  Traffickers and triggerpullers – beware.”

“We are building a collaborative approach here in Huntington,” said Interim Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial.  “Day in and day out we go after criminals who are bringing these drugs into our community and work to get people into much needed treatment.  We greatly appreciate our state and federal partnering agencies bringing their powerful resources to our community.  There is one thing the good people of Huntington and the bad people in Huntington have in common, they both deserve today.” ​ 

In the Southern District of West Virginia, 15 individuals have been charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl.  The investigation is ongoing and could result in additional federal and state charges in the future.

Please Note:  An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

Updated April 17, 2018

Drug Trafficking