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Press Release

Heroin Dealers Connected With Two Tuscaloosa Overdose Deaths Among 50 Defendants In Federal Roundup

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM -- Two Birmingham men charged in connection with the heroin overdose deaths of two young men in Tuscaloosa early this year are among defendants still being sought in an arrest roundup today that is part of an ongoing law enforcement effort to attack the supply side of the growing heroin problem in the Northern District of Alabama, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and federal Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Clay A. Morris.

Special agents with DEA, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with U.S. Marshals, Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, and state and local police, fanned out across North Alabama this morning to arrest 50 people indicted over the past six months in an operation to take heroin dealers off the streets. As of this afternoon, 40 defendants are in custody on drug distribution charges. Arrests continue. This operation is part of a larger initiative, launched in Spring 2012, to track the sources of heroin in Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties and prosecute those responsible for trafficking the addictive drug that is killing people in increasing numbers.

Confirmed heroin overdose deaths in the three counties increased five-fold between 2008 and 2012, rising from 15 to 83. The majority of the 83 people who died in 2012 were in their 20s and 30s, but teenagers also are dying in increasing numbers.

"Seeking to enhance their illicit profits, drug dealers in our community have shifted their business to selling heroin, which is highly addictive," Vance said. "This shift has led to skyrocketing overdose death rates among young people. Our action today brings together federal, state and local law enforcement who have worked over the past year to interdict the supply of heroin and get the dealers who supply it to our youth off the streets and into federal prison," she said. "We have begun, and look forward to continuing to engage community leaders in efforts to raise awareness about the risks of heroin and combat the demand for it. This is a community-wide issue that parents, educators and medical professionals need to be aware of, along with law enforcement."

"Over the past several months, law enforcement in Northern Alabama has tirelessly investigated heroin trafficking," Morris said. "Our combined investigative and prosecutorial efforts should send a clear message to drug traffickers. That message is that law enforcement shares the common goal to protect our communities and children from those who sell poison. We will be relentless in our pursuit of those criminals who attempt to destroy the futures of our children," he said.

The two men in Tuscaloosa whose overdose deaths are now connected to heroin sold in Birmingham were 20 and 28 years old. Both men, the younger a University of Alabama student, died in the same Tuscaloosa apartment complex within the span of one month.

The two men being sought in connection with those deaths face charges that include distributing heroin "and death resulted from the use of said heroin."

Law enforcement agencies working with DEA in the months-long investigation leading to today's arrests include the Hoover, Pelham, Gardendale, Vestavia Hills, Tuscaloosa, Hueytown, Bessemer and Pleasant Grove police departments, Marshall County Drug Task Force, Gulf Coast HIDTA Task Force, Alabama Beverage Control Board, Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Jefferson and Shelby County sheriff's offices, and district attorney's offices for Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties and the Bessemer Cutoff.

In drug-trafficking prosecutions in the Northern District in the past two years, separate from today's arrests, authorities have seized nearly five kilograms of heroin.

The government seized 2.5 kilograms of heroin and 40 kilograms of cocaine in one 2012 drug-trafficking case. A federal grand jury indicted 11 people in that case, including key defendants TONY SCALES, 54, of Birmingham, and WILBERT HANKINS, 43, of Hoover. All 11 have pled guilty to drug distribution charges. A federal judge has ordered the defendants, jointly, to forfeit $16 million to the government as proceeds of illegal activity.

Hankins and Scales both served time for prior convictions on federal drug charges and restarted their illicit business when they were released from prison about 2008. According to evidence in the case, Hankins had maintained contact with supply sources in California and secured large loads of drugs that were transported to Birmingham. Scales, operating mainly from a house in Ensley, used a network of distributors to sell the drugs.

Demand for heroin from Scales' customers steadily drove Hankins to include heroin with his shipments of cocaine. DEA agents seized the 2.5 kilograms of heroin and 40 kilograms of cocaine in April 2012 as it moved from California to Alabama.

A drug-trafficking conspiracy case investigated by the FBI and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office led to the indictment and arrests of nine people in May and the seizure of two kilograms of nearly pure heroin and 1.5 kilograms of cocaine. That case focuses on a large-scale drug-distribution network in western Birmingham. Trial is pending for all nine defendants.

The public is reminded that indictments contain only charges. Defendants are presumed innocent and it is the government's responsibility to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Updated March 19, 2015