CEDAR RAPIDS — One of the leaders of a large-scale heroin trafficking ring in Cedar Rapids was sentenced Monday to more than 10 years in federal prison.
Jarel Williams, 23, previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance-heroin and five counts of distribution of a controlled substance-heroin. He was part of the “Ferrari” group that used certain phone numbers known by customers to arrange and conduct heroin sales from June 2015 through April 2019.
The “Operation Blue Devils” investigation into the Ferrari group began in 2017, when investigators with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration learned of its activities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced after Williams’ hearing. The heroin was brought to Iowa from Chicago and sold to midlevel dealers and customers in the Cedar Rapids area.
Drug transactions occurred all over the community, including at mall and grocery store parking lots, near gas stations, truck stops and parks. Some of the traffickers carried firearms to protect themselves.
Investigators conducted dozens of interviews with local dealers, learning the structure of the organization, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Morfitt said. However, traditional investigative techniques alone were not enough to understand and target the “pervasive” operations.
Morfitt said investigators eventually used wiretaps, targeting four “prolific” heroin distributors in the area. They intercepted hundreds of calls between dealers and customers.
The wiretap investigation led authorities to the “Ferrari” phone numbers, which were passed around by several in the group, including Williams. He is the 20th person to be sentenced over the last 20 months for his role in the trafficking ring.
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Williams had an integral leadership role, spanning two years from 2017 to 2018, and distributed 1,000 grams of heroin, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Corkery said during his sentencing. He sold, directed others to sell and collected money, she said.
Corkery pointed out how easy it was to buy heroin in the community because of the known Ferrari phone.
Evidence presented during other hearings for six co-conspirators showed members were selling heroin 20 times a day during a six-week period. More than 300 grams of heroin was sold just during that time.
Williams sold heroin at least 10 times to informants during the investigation, Corkery said. During his time in the group, Williams recruited members, including 18-year-old Walter Murray, to sell heroin for him when Devontae Horton, a convicted member of group, was charged and in jail.
During the hearing, Williams said he accepted the consequences for what he did and apologized to the community and his family.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams sentenced him to 127 months in prison and five years of supervised release following his prison term. This prison term will run concurrently with a pending Cook County case in Chicago and consecutively to a forgery case in Johnson County.
“Deadly opioids continue to take their toll on our communities,” U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan said in a statement after the hearing. “Thanks to the hard work of the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with the assistance of many other law enforcement partners, a large-scale heroin trafficking organization has been taken off the streets.”
In a statement, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Darin Thimmesch said the collaborative effort between local, state and federal agencies was key to dismantling the drug operation.
At least two people overdosed, but survived, after consuming heroin distributed by this group.
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In total, the investigation resulted in charges against 33 individuals, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This included a handful of indictments against people who had bought heroin from the group. Investigators seized more than $6,500 in cash, 1 pound of heroin and six handguns.
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