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Press Release

Joseph Gray Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison for Selling Heroin,

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

Joseph P. Gray, Jr. was sentenced to 40 years in prison for leading a wide-ranging conspiracy to distribute heroin, fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, crack cocaine, and other drugs, as well as firearms offenses. 

Gray had been charged in 22 counts of a 42-count drug conspiracy indictment, and pled guilty to all charges.  The charges included a conspiracy to distributed controlled substances, distributing and possessing with intent to distribute controlled substances, possessing a firearm as a felon, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of his drug trafficking.   Judge John R. Adams sentenced Gray to 480 months of incarceration, followed by 10 years of supervised release.  The Court found that that Gray was responsible for approximately 1.5 kilograms of heroin and fentanyl mixtures and almost a kilogram of crack that the DTO distributed.

Gray has 21 co-defendants.  Twenty of them have also pled guilty, and most are still awaiting sentencing.  One co-defendant, Ricky Jackson of Cleveland, Ohio, remains a fugitive. 

U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said: “This defendant dealt death for profit and celebrated the overdose of people suffering from addiction.” “Every day of this four decade sentence was well-earned by Joseph Gray and this term of imprisonment sends a powerful message to anyone selling heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine: these Ohio neighborhoods belong to us, not you.”   

“The DEA and its local, state and federal partners are committed to removing dangerous substances, and those who seek to profit from their distribution, from our communities,” said Detroit Field Division Special Agent in Charge Keith Martin. “Mr. Gray will now have a considerable amount of time in prison to think about his unlawful behavior and his role in destroying the lives of countless Ohioans.”

Euclid Police Chief Scott Meyer said: “The Euclid Police Department would like to thank our federal, state, county and local partners.  I want to specifically recognize the DEA and our task force partnership with that organization.  Law enforcement has an obligation to address the dysfunction, chaos and danger created by those who choose to traffic in drug and gun violence.  The Euclid Police Department will continue to proactively address those who participate in illicit and violent activities which have an adverse and negative impact on our community.  Euclid is a diverse community of good, hardworking and caring residents.  We will continue to work with any individual, group or organization that shares the mission of making Euclid a safe and vibrant community for all.”

"The importance of collaboration and teamwork in law enforcement operations cannot be understated," said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin D. Williams. "This particular investigation spanned multiple counties, cities and communities and would not have come together so comprehensively without the partnerships between the agencies ….” 

According to court records and the evidence presented at the sentencing hearing:

Gray led a drug trafficking organization (the “DTO”) that sold a variety of controlled substances, primarily heroin, fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, crack cocaine, and powder cocaine.  The DTO concentrated on customers on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, including nearby suburbs like Euclid, Ohio, and locations in Lake County, Ohio. 

A key part of the conspiracy was co-conspirators’ use of a single “Customer Phone” line that was available to all customers.  Gray owned the Customer Phone, but handed it off to co-conspirators to use.  By passing the Customer Phone from dealer to dealer, the DTO could operate at all hours, and that line was a reliable source for his customers, who never needed call any other number to buy drugs.  As Gray told one customer on a recorded call, “my phone [is] twenty-four hours,” meaning that customers could call the phone 24 hours per day.

Gray built up a huge clientele with the Customer Phone, and the DTO used it to served hundreds of customers each day.  Gray himself complained about dealing with so many customers in a recorded call with his girlfriend.  He described how he spends his day as follows: “I sell f**king drugs and take people to Home Depot and get this and that,” and explained, “I interact with 100 people a day.”  Even when Gray was arrested and police seized the Customer Phone, he would ensure that the line remained active.  After he was arrested on January 8, 2019, he called his co-conspirators from jail and gave them instructions to purchase a new iPhone device, port over the number, and downloaded the contacts and other content and settings from the cloud. 

Investigators also tapped another telephone line of Gray’s, on which they intercepted him discussing plans for obtaining more drug supply.  In one call, Gray said heroin product they were selling—which actually contained fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue most of the time—“goes so fast.  You gotta buy hundreds,” meaning a hundred grams at a time. 

When purchasing new batches of heroin product, Gray had a system of using what he called “testers”—experienced heroin users who would try samples of a new batch before he bought it, and give him a rating on a scale from one to ten.  The DTO often used a commercial property on Holmes Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio for “testing” and other trafficking activities.

Gray also specifically pursued heroin product that was strong enough to kill users. November 23, 2018, he called a co-conspirator and reported that he had a good supply—that he had “fire on deck”—as demonstrated by the fact that it had killed one of his customers.  He described it as “casket” quality, and they discussed how to obtain more of that product.  A few days later, Gray bragged to Ricky Jackson about the strength of his product, saying “I got the fire.”  To demonstrate its quality, he explained, “This kid OD and s**t.”

Evidence presented at the sentencing hearing also showed that Gray was supplying heroin product to a 23-year-old man from Willowick, Ohio when the man relapsed in a heroin addiction in early June 2018.  The man then obtained a fatal dose of fentanyl and other drugs by calling the Customer Phone on June 7, 2018, and his family then found that he had died of a fentanyl overdose on June 8, 2018.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Cleveland Division of Police, the Euclid Police Department, and the Suburban Police Anti-Crime Network, which includes the police departments of Lyndhurst, Highland Heights, Mayfield Heights, Mayfield Village and Richmond Heights. This case was investigated as part of the Cleveland Strike Force. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elliot Morrison and Brian S. Deckert.

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation.  The OCDETF Program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking, money laundering and violent criminal organizations operating domestically and internationally.  The principle mission of the OCDETF Program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, money laundering and violent criminal organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.



Bridget M. Brennan
(216) 622-3810

Updated December 5, 2019

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses