A crack-cocaine ring in Miami’s inner-city.
A heroin-trafficking network stretching from South Florida to Mexico.
And, a lone West Palm Beach black-market gun maker.
All were taken down this week as federal authorities unveiled charges against 55 suspects accused of violent crimes and drug offenses that terrorized neighborhoods such as Little Haiti, Liberty City and Miami Gardens.
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“Drugs, illegal guns and violence rip us apart,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer declared on Thursday during a news conference at the Miami-Dade Police Department in Liberty City, one of the “hot spots” targeted by federal authorities. “Every child in our community has a right to walk home and be safe in their backyard without having to be a victim of gunfire.”
About 40 of the suspects were arrested Thursday or in recent days and will likely have their first appearances in Miami federal court on Friday, authorities said.
According to the U.S. attorney's office, the defendants are accused in four indictments and one criminal complaint of participating in a “vast network” of narcotics trafficking conspiracies and the possession and sale of illegal firearms. Many are repeat offenders and are looking at potentially long prison sentences.
During Thursday’s arrests, about 50 weapons, 500 rounds of ammunition, 10 kilos of powdered cocaine, 9 kilos of Mexican heroin and 500 grams of crack-cocaine were confiscated.
“All you have to do is look at this table and see the tools of the trade,” said Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the Miami division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, pointing to a seized handmade rifle, assault weapons and pistols. “As you can see, these are not hunting guns.”
Asked if any of the confiscated weapons were linked to a flurry of fatal shootings in Liberty City and other scarred neighborhoods, Ferrer said that the answer won’t be known until they are examined in forensic labs.
Ferrer said the crackdown is the latest effort to fight local crime under his office's Violence Reduction Partnership with other law enforcement agencies and community groups. He formed the task force in 2011, designating prosecutors to inner-city neighborhoods to focus on both criminal investigations and crime prevention.
Among the law enforcement agencies involved in Thursday's takedown: Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Miami, Miami Gardens and Miami-Dade police departments.
“Bad guys don’t have boundaries, so we can’t have boundaries either,” Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said.