By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Three alleged drug trafficking rings with footprints stretching as far as Virginia were busted in Philadelphia leading to the arrest of dozens of people and seizure of fentanyl, nearly half a million dollars in cash and firearms, authorities say.
Officers arrested 35 individuals last week allegedly tied to the illegal drug organizations focused on the Kensington neighborhood, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said on Monday.
Shapiro led the eight-month investigation that included local, state and federal agencies. The arrests thwarted five shootings, he said.
“These people [who were arrested] are inextricably linked to the violence that we see here in our city,” Shapiro said during a news conference outside the Harrowgate Plaza in Kensington beside officials and law enforcement.
Following the execution of 30 search warrants on Wednesday and Thursday, agents recovered $480,000 in cash and 20 firearms, including three AR-15 assault rifles, a mini AK47 and 13 handguns.
Law enforcement also seized $97,500 worth of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more powerful than heroin; $87,000 worth of Xylazine, a horse tranquilizer; and $130,000 worth of crack cocaine, Shapiro said.
The groups were allegedly on track to sell $8 million worth of drugs annually.
The individuals allegedly began as a single “tightly organized and controlled” group, shared the same drug supplier, and concentrated on selling in Kensington, Shapiro said.
The single trafficking ring then allegedly broke into three with ties to all southeastern Pennsylvania counties, Virginia and Maryland, Shapiro said. The attorney general declined to provide more details about how the group split up, citing ongoing investigations.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw warned that the seized drugs and guns, as well as those arrested, will be replaced unless law enforcement commits to addressing the root causes of the issues negatively affecting the city.
Outlaw called on police to continue to identify, investigate and arrest bad actors.
But in what appeared to be a veiled swipe at District Attorney Larry Krasner, the police commissioner demanded that “consistent, fair and effective prosecution must remain paramount to ensure individuals don’t quickly return to re-victimize communities or become victims themselves.”
“There has to be accountability,” she added.
Critics have accused Krasner, a reform-minded prosecutor and former defense attorney, of not prosecuting cases and being anti-law enforcement since he took office in 2016.
But since the novel coronavirus pandemic arrived in the city in March, Outlaw, Mayor Jim Kenney and others have attempted to pin the city’s uptick in shootings and homicides on Krasner. Krasner has denied that surging gun violence is tied to his office.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents District 7, which includes Kensington, said the raids were part of rebuilding the area. She also called on the Kenney administration to “invest in the people of Kensington.”
“I hope that the [Kenney] administration now commits to the residents of Kensington so that they get a renewed faith that their vote counts, that they do count, and that the ZIP code in which they are living in should not dictate the quality of life that they have,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.
Council President Darrell Clarke, who represents District 5, said the issues of gun violence and drugs were not limited to Kensington.
“This is not a Kensington thing or North Philadelphia thing,” Clarke said, “this is a Philadelphia thing.”
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.