After a months-long wiretapping investigation that began with a complaint about prostitution, police said Friday they had arrested 31 members of a dangerous, highly organized drug trafficking network and had seized large amounts of drugs and cash.
The multiagency effort, dubbed Operation Limehouse after a district in London, culminated in raids Thursday night and Friday morning in Boston, Quincy, and other Eastern Massachusetts communities.
Police searched 18 houses and eight vehicles and said they found drugs, money, and weapons hidden behind walls and in secret compartments. In total, officers seized one kilo of heroin, a half-kilo of cocaine, unspecified amounts of marijuana and prescription painkillers, and more than $140,000 . Police also confiscated four handguns, a Winchester rifle, and more than 150 rounds of ammunition.
The criminal organization had its hub in Roxbury, police said, but key members were arrested at homes in Attleboro, Duxbury, Quincy, and Salem. Those arrested ranged from “top-level importers” of foreign-made narcotics to street-level dealers, and they face a variety of drug and weapons charges.
Prosecutors hailed the operation, which began with “controlled buys” by undercover officers, as an important step toward bringing peace to Boston’s streets.
“Drugs obviously drive the violence in our city, and it’s very key that we focus on the drugs, because behind the drugs are the guns,” said Boston Police Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey. “This was quite an operation.”
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley echoed Linskey in characterizing the arrested men and women as violent, saying they were organized, disciplined, and conducted business “at the point of a gun.”
The operation involved listening in on hundreds of phone calls between gang members, a tactic that Conley stressed was approved and supervised by a state judge.
“It’s not just some kind of a willy-nilly listening into private citizens’ phone calls,” Conley said during a news conference at Boston police headquarters Friday. “This was based on probable cause.”
Twenty-one of the 31 people arrested were arraigned Friday afternoon in Boston Municipal Court. The 10 who were not in court include two whose identities are pending, and eight who will be summonsed later on lesser charges, according to Conley’s office.
Prosecutors divided the suspects into tiers based on their rank and involvement with the drug network. The highest-ranking members were held on bail as high as $2 million, while those in lower tiers had bail set as low as $2,000 or were released on their own recognizance.
Prosecutors said most of the group’s leaders were older career criminals, veterans of the criminal justice system who were perhaps seeking a final payday.
“The defendants charged in this case, by and large, aren’t young men fresh to the game,” Conley said. “They had a business plan, and that was to make as much money as possible by selling narcotics through carefully selected runners and distributors.”
Under Massachusetts law, anyone convicted of trafficking large quantities of heroin faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Conley used the occasion to ask legislators to pass a law giving police more leeway to use wiretapping to solve violent crimes in Boston. He called the current statute, which limits wiretapping to cases involving organized crime, an outdated relic of the 1960s, when the Mafia ruled Boston’s underworld.
“Today we deal with a different sort of crime,” Conley said. “This [case] just really demonstrates how the power of the wiretap can effectively take down violent criminals.”
The main law enforcement groups involved in the operation were state, Boston, and Quincy police.
Departments in Attleboro, Abington, Salem, and Duxbury were not involved in the investigation but were notified of and participated in the searches and arrests.