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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Announces Completion Of Joint Law Enforcement Operation Designed To Target Areas Of High Rates Of Violent Crime And Opioid Overdoses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania

SCRANTON- The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced the completion of a joint federal and state operation designed to target areas of high rates of violent crime and opioid overdoses within the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

According to United States Attorney Gerard M. Karam, the United States Attorney’s Office in coordination with the DEA, the United States Marshals Service, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Wilkes-Barre City Police Department, and the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department conducted Operation Overdrive – a law enforcement initiative designed to disrupt violent crime and drug trafficking within specified areas of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Extensive research of 2023 data of violent crime and opioid overdose incidents within Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania identified two specific zones within the city in which a high number of violent crimes occurred together with frequent opioid poisoning.  These two zones were identified to be the most violent areas of the city with a combined 39% of violent crimes occurring during the calendar year.  The two zones also contained a higher rate of opioid overdoses, with 35% of such incidents occurring within Wilkes-Barre.

Law enforcement agents from federal, state, and local agencies coordinated efforts over a six-month period beginning in September 2023, to target drug trafficking organizations operating within Wilkes-Barre, with an eye on disrupting, dismantling, and arresting targets operating within the two zones identified by data analysis.  The Scranton, Pennsylvania office of the DEA in coordination with the DEA Long Island (New York) District Office executed three federal search warrants associated with the leader of a targeted drug trafficking organization operating in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and Long Island, New York. These searches resulted in the arrest of four individuals, and the seizure of 7.6 kilograms of fentanyl; 100 counterfeit pills; 3 pounds of highly pure crystal methamphetamine; 100 grams of crack cocaine; and two firearms. In addition to this highly successful investigation Operation Overdrive enforcement operations resulted in the arrest of four additional unrelated drug traffickers and the seizure of more than four kilograms of fentanyl; 540 grams of crack cocaine; 640 grams of cocaine; more than a kilogram of highly pure crystal methamphetamine; and five additional firearms.

As these efforts were underway, the United States Marshals Service ran Operation Washout, a parallel initiative to locate and arrest violent fugitives hiding in Wilkes-Barre and surrounding areas of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force arrested 43 fugitives.  All these individuals were violent offenders with open arrest warrants. One of these individuals has since been indicted by a federal grand jury in Scranton for drug trafficking and firearms possession discovered at the time of his arrest.  Another fugitive arrested during the operation is under federal investigation for similar crimes. Of the arrests made by the United States Marshals Service five were wanted for homicide crimes; five for firearms related crimes (separate from the homicide fugitives); nine for narcotics crimes; and six for sex related felonies.  The United States Marshals Service also seized six firearms; ½ kilogram of fentanyl; 27 grams of heroin; 74 grams of cocaine/crack cocaine; and more than 350 grams of highly pure crystal methamphetamine during the arrests.

The results of this law enforcement coordination have shown significant signs of lowering drug related violence and opioid poisonings in Wilkes-Barre. For example, from January 2023 through February 2023, the Wilkes-Barre Police Department reported 15 violent crime incidents (33 violent crimes per 100,000 persons) and 20 opioid poisonings (45 per 100,000 persons). Comparatively, from January 2024 through February 2024, the Wilkes-Barre Police Department reported 11 violent crime incidents (24 violent crimes per 100,000 persons) and eight opioid poisonings (18 opioid poisonings per 100,000 persons). More specifically, Zone 1 had 0 violent crime incidents and two opioid poisonings while Zone 2 had one violent crime incident and 0 opioid poisonings. That’s a 100 percent decrease of violent crime in Zone 1 and a 50 percent decrease in opioid poisonings, while Zone 2 showed a 67 percent decrease in violent crime and a 100 percent decrease in opioid poisonings.

“The goal of Operation Overdrive was to disrupt drug-trafficking organizations that pose the greatest threats to our communities,” said Thomas Hodnett, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Philadelphia Field Division.  “The joint work of the DEA, Pennsylvania State Police, Wilkes-Barre City Police Department, and Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department did exactly that – together they prevented the distribution of over 531,000 potentially lethal doses of fentanyl in the Wilkes-Barre area.   I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their support of this initiative and the U.S. Marshals Service for their concurrent efforts in arresting violent fugitives across Luzerne County.” 

"Operation Washout has successfully targeted and apprehended dangerous fugitives, removing threats from our streets,” said U.S. Marshal William Pugh. “Working in parallel with Operation Overdrive exemplifies law enforcement’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding our communities."

“The City of Wilkes-Barre and the Wilkes-Barre Police Department appreciate the efforts of the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Chief Joseph Coffay, Wilkes-Barre Police Department. “This successful operation could not have been achieved without the combined efforts of local, state and federal authorities.”

Operation Overdrive is an initiative by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in coordination with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Wilkes-Barre City Police, and the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. Operation Washout is an initiative by the United States Marshals Service in coordination with the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania Parole Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd K. Hinkley is the Project Safe Neighborhoods Coordinator for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and represented the United States Attorney on the two related law enforcement operations.

Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

These criminal cases were also brought as part of a district wide initiative to combat the nationwide epidemic regarding the use and distribution of heroin.  Led by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Heroin Initiative targets heroin traffickers operating in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and is part of a coordinated effort among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who commit heroin related offenses.

Indictments and Criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court.

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Updated March 6, 2024

Topic
Project Safe Neighborhoods