U.S. Attorneys Say Strike Force Combats Drugs, Violence in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area
St. Louis – A new St. Louis Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Gateway Strike Force is combatting drug traffickers and violent criminals on both sides of the Mississippi River, Adam Cohen of the DOJ OCDETF Executive Office, U.S. Attorney Steve Weinhoeft in the Southern District of Illinois (SDIL), and U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen in the Eastern District of Missouri (EDMO) announced today.
The St. Louis OCDETF Gateway Strike Force represents an incredible investigative force to address major drug trafficking organizations, gangs and associated violence, including murders, in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region. The Strike Force brings together under one roof federal investigative agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the St. Louis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), United States Postal Investigation Service (USPIS), the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS), and the United States Secret Service (USSS) along with State and local law enforcement offices including the St. Louis County Police Department, St. Louis City Police Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Charles County Police Department, St. Charles City Police Department, Chesterfield Police Department, Manchester Police Department, Webster Groves Police Department, Woodson Terrace Police Department, and the Missouri National Guard.
A satellite office located in Illinois will include members of the DEA, FBI Springfield, Illinois State Police, and the aforementioned agency partners along with prosecutors from the SDIL and the EDMO who will pursue criminal charges in federal court. Although the Strike Force is designed to generate federal prosecutions, it is anticipated that some Strike Force cases will be suitable for prosecution in state courts in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. The ongoing cooperation of the Circuit Attorney’s Office of the City of St. Louis and the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney of St. Louis County is a significant and appreciated factor in the Strike Force’s ongoing efforts.
This unique entity brings to bear the investigative experience and expertise of these various law enforcement agencies and equips them with additional resources to investigate and dismantle, through federal and state prosecution, criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking, murders, other acts of violence, and other criminal activity.
The Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, Adam Cohen, wanted to be here to celebrate the announcement of this newest OCDETF Strike Force, but the restrictions related to the current public health crisis prevented his traveling to St. Louis from Washington. He released the following statement:
“The OCDETF co-located Strike Forces Initiative provides for the establishment of permanent prosecutor-led, multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same office space where they partner to conduct intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against priority targets and their illicit financial networks. With the addition of the St. Louis Gateway Strike Force, OCDETF now has 19 Strike Forces operating throughout the country.
“The OCDETF Program is the keystone of the U.S. Attorney General’s strategy to reduce the availability of illicit narcotics throughout our nation using a prosecutor-led, multi-agency approach to combat transnational organized crime. The role of OCDETF is to facilitate joint operations by focusing its partners on priority targets, by managing and coordinating multi-agency efforts, and by leveraging intelligence across multiple investigative platforms.
“The St. Louis Gateway OCDETF Strike Force is a joint effort led by the United States Attorneys in the Eastern District of Missouri and the Southern District of Illinois. This newest OCDETF Strike Force features agents from at least seven federal agencies and two state and local law enforcement agencies. These U.S. Attorneys’ offices are working together, across state lines and judicial districts, in a regional approach to combat criminal organizations and the violence they inflict on the community. Criminals do not recognize state boundaries or county lines and neither will we.
“As illicit drug production, transportation, and distribution continue to plague our nation and the safety of our citizens, OCDETF remains the targeting, coordination, and intelligence platform for combatting high-level drug trafficking and its attendant violent crime.
“It is a privilege to acknowledge the multi-agency effort demonstrated today by the announcement of the opening of the St. Louis Gateway OCDETF Strike Force. This new Strike Force team doesn’t just join 18 other Strike Forces, it joins the largest anti-crime task force in the country – OCDETF is made up of over 550 federal prosecutors, 2,000 federal agents, 40,000 state and local law enforcement officers from almost 1,200 police agencies, and an intelligence fusion center.”
In conclusion, Mr. Cohen stated that, “I offer my sincerest congratulations to U.S. Attorneys Jeff Jensen and Steve Weinhoeft as they formally open the St. Louis Gateway Strike Force which will serve and protect the community for years to come with a prosecutor-led, multi-agency approach to combating the command and control elements of organized criminal networks.”
Chief Jon Belmar, St. Louis County Police Department, stated that, “This Strike Force designation will provide additional resources as our Law Enforcement community works together to provide a safer St. Louis region. Removing the most violent criminals from our streets is our top priority, and I am proud of the collaboration that exists between Local Law Enforcement, our Federal partners and the United States Attorney’s Office. Congratulations to all who have worked so diligently to move this forward in the effort of a safer St. Louis.”
“Mark Twain once famously described the Mississippi River as a ‘lawless stream’ that cannot be tamed. Today, the challenge we face isn’t the water itself but the flow of illegal drugs that cross the river each day. That flow of illegal drugs fuels violence, overdoses, addiction, and countless other societal harms. We remain committed to disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking organizations in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and through the formation of this joint strike force, we now have important new resources at our disposal to stem the tide,” stated U.S. Attorney Steve Weinhoeft, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Illinois.
Jensen stated that, “The new Strike Force will have a major impact in reducing the trafficking of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area and the Midwest. The Strike Force is a powerful tool to target those organizations involved in many of the murders and other violent acts in our region. These groups are organized, compartmentalized, secretive, and often ruthless. Therefore, it takes a powerful tool, a Strike Force, to dismantle these predatory organizations.”
Jensen extended his thanks to Attorney General William Barr and the DOJ OCDETF Executive Office for designating St. Louis as a Strike Force location.
Jensen further stated, “I am particularly honored to formalize our Gateway Strike Force partnership with our counterparts in the Southern District of Illinois. Steve Weinhoeft, federal prosecutors, and officers and agents in the Southern District are strong and effective law enforcement partners. Organized and violent drug traffickers do not recognize state lines. Our combined resources will enable us to dismantle criminal organizations that impact both sides of the river.”
ST. LOUIS JOINS OCDETF STRIKE FORCES NATIONWIDE
The Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) oversees the Strike Force initiative. St. Louis joins OCDETF Strike Forces in major cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, El Paso, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, North Texas, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Juan, Southeast Michigan, and Tampa.
MISSION: DISRUPT, DISMANTLE CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS
The goal of the Strike Force is to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations, including gangs, cartels, and others that are trafficking in drugs and firearms, or engaging in money laundering.
Participating agencies have agreed to assign full-time personnel to the Strike Force. Police officers, federal agents, and prosecutors are working together under one roof. For security reasons, the location will not be made public.
An FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge and a DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge manage the Strike Force’s teams: a major crime squad, a major threat squad, and a fugitive squad. A Strike Force Executive Council, whose members include both U.S. Attorneys, will oversee the Strike Force.
Some of the law enforcement agencies comprising The St. Louis OCDETF Gateway Strike Force started working together over the last several years as a prelude to the formation of the Strike Force. Examples of their work include:
U.S. v. Velazquez, et al: Thirty-four defendants were indicted for their roles in a large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy or related offenses. Agents seized approximately $1.3 million dollars, and more than sixty kilograms of cocaine. The indictment alleges that members of the organization committed multiple murders as part of the drug trafficking enterprise. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against one of the members of the organization alleged to have been involved in murders. Many of the defendants in this case have pled guilty in federal court.
U.S. v. Goolsby, et al: Fifteen defendants were indicted in this drug trafficking conspiracy involving the seizure of approximately 25 kilograms of cocaine, 10 kilograms of heroin, 3 kilograms of fentanyl and over $2,000,000 in currency.
U.S. v. Starr, et al: Nine defendants were indicted in a multi-kilogram methamphetamine conspiracy. Investigators seized approximately 2.3 kilograms of methamphetamine as well as quantities of cocaine, over $50,000 in currency and two firearms.
U.S. v. Johnson, et al: Approximately twenty-one defendants were indicted for their various roles in the trafficking of heroin and fentanyl in and around the Peabody Housing Complex just south of downtown St. Louis. Investigators seized approximately 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 9 ounces of fentanyl, 27 firearms, and approximately $70,000.00. The indictment alleges that the members of the conspiracy committed a homicide and are responsible for two overdose deaths. Many of the defendants (approximately 15) have pled guilty in federal court.
The charges contained in these indictments are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
The prosecutions announced in this release were brought as a part of the Department of Justice’s OCDETF Co-located Strike Forces Initiative or as the prelude to the designation of the Strike Force. The Strike Force will build upon this work and bring even more resources to bear in identifying and dismantling other large criminal organizations involved in the flow of drugs to our community and associated murders and other violence. The Strike Force, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location, will only strengthen successful prelude partnerships. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against a continuum of priority targets and their affiliate illicit financial networks. These prosecutor-led, co-located Strike Forces capitalize on the synergy created through the long-term relationships that can be forged by agents, analysts, and prosecutors who remain together over time, and they epitomize the model that has proven most effective in combating organized crime.
OCDETF was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and is the keystone of the Department of Justice’s illicit drug reduction strategy. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking organizations, transnational criminal organizations, and money laundering organizations that present a significant threat to the public safety, economic, or national security of the United States.
STATEMENTS FROM PARTNERS
Agency officials who are working with the Strike Force made the following statements:
FBI Special Agent in Charge, Springfield, Illinois Division, Sean M. Cox stated, "The Springfield Division of the FBI is proud to collaborate with FBI St. Louis as well as our federal and state law enforcement partners to combat the most prolific criminals operating between St. Louis and East St. Louis. It is only by way of focused law enforcement operations and prosecutorial relationships that we can make a positive impact in our communities and hold these criminals accountable for their actions."
"This Gateway Strike Force will use increased funding and expanded partnerships to target violent gangs engaged in drug trafficking, homicides, carjackings, and armed robberies," said Special Agent in Charge Richard Quinn of the FBI St. Louis Division. "By joining forces with our brethren across the river, it will also make it much more difficult for criminals to exploit geographic and jurisdictional boundaries to evade justice."
“The St. Louis Gateway OCDETF Strike Force will place a special emphasis on the region’s most serious drug and drug violence threats,” said Special Agent in Charge William Callahan, head of the DEA St. Louis Division. “The DEA will bring significant investigative resources, in collaboration with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to target the command and control of drug trafficking organizations in the St. Louis Metro and worldwide. We expect the Gateway Strike Force to identify and seize drug-related assets associated with these criminal networks for a well-rounded, targeted approach to their dismantlement.”
Katherine Greer, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge, Kansas City stated, “The creation of the St. Louis Strike Force provides a collaborative effort, serving as a force multiplier to effectively protect the public, by targeting the command structure of major international criminal organizations. HSI brings a unique expertise to combatting violent crime utilizing over 400 federal statutes involving narcotics smuggling, weapons violations, money laundering and immigration enforcement.”
“Our citizens have heard me say on numerous occasions that at least 50% of our City’s homicides and gun violence is drug-related; not to mention the fact that drug overdoses in our City have ravaged through our community as well. The Drug Strike Force will be a regional effort which promises to have a meaningful impact on the City’s gun violence and overdose rate. I am thankful for the opportunity to participate on the Strike Force and I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of its presence in our region,” stated Police Commissioner John Hayden, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
“The United States Marshals Service serves as the United States Government’s primary fugitive investigation and apprehension agency. As a charter agency within the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, the Marshals Service stands ready to help the Strike Force destabilize and disrupt the most serious crime organizations through joint and collaborative fugitive investigations. The Marshals Service in St. Louis has a dedicated group of Deputy U.S. Marshals and Task Force Officers embedded at the St. Louis Gateway Strike Force as a fugitive team. Leveraging the 94 Marshals Service district offices across the country, and proud 230-year history of the U.S. Marshals, this fugitive team will support the Strike Force in investigating, locating, and apprehending the country’s most serious fugitives. We are proud to be a partner agency in this endeavor and commend the work of the United States Attorney’s Office and all other partner agencies that make up the OCDETF Strike Force,” stated John Jordan, United States Marshal, Eastern District of Missouri.
Postal Inspector in Charge Bill Hedrick, of the Chicago Division Postal Inspection Service, St. Louis Field Office, stated, “The United States Postal Inspection Service proudly partners with the agencies involved in the task force to better coordinate investigations. These relationships facilitate communication and data sharing that enable the identification of drug trafficking organizations, which would not be possible without interagency cooperation. This allows the Postal Inspection Service to advance its mission to enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail, and protect the American public from criminal drug and gang activity which destroys so many lives.”
Karl Stiften, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, stated, “IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI) is a proud participant of the St. Louis OCDETF Strike Force. CI special agents contribute our financial investigative skills to track and seize proceeds of illegal activities from the criminals involved. Pooling the skills and resources of each agency makes a formidable team.”
“The United States Secret Service is proud to join forces with our local, state, and federal partners as a member of the St. Louis Gateway OCDETF Strike Force. This collaboration will serve to strengthen our capabilities to directly target major international criminal organizations operating in the St. Louis metropolitan area and around the world,” stated Thomas Landry, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service - St. Louis Field Office.
Chief Kurt Frisz of the St. Charles County Police Department stated, “The St. Charles County Police Department has long valued interagency collaborations and we are happy to support this initiative. The Strike Force will play a vital role in dismantling the very complex and transient criminal networks that are plaguing our region, which will increase our ability to solve heinous crimes that have threatened the community’s sense of peace.”