AUGUSTA — The arrest of 10 people Wednesday on drug trafficking charges is the latest example of how out-of-state gangs are changing the landscape of the illegal drug trade in Maine, police said Thursday.
Maine drug enforcement agents arrested 10 people — seven of whom list Pennsylvania addresses — during the search of a home at 1 Penley St., which police said was being used by a Chicago-based gang to funnel illegal drugs into Maine.
“The investigation revealed that a number of those charged are members or are affiliated with the violent street gang known as the Almighty Black P. Stones,” said Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney in a news release.
McKinney said he is concerned “about the prevalence of organized and often violent out-of-state drug trafficking organizations now operating in the state. This investigation highlights the importance of focused, inter-agency cooperation on these types of investigations.”
Seized during the search at the home in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood were 45 grams of heroin with an estimated street value of $10,000 and approximately five grams of what authorities believe to be methamphetamine, according to the Maine DEA. Nine of the people are charged with aggravated trafficking in heroin. These charges were aggravated because of the amount of heroin that was seized.
If testing proves the substance is methamphetamine, it will be the first time in at least several years that methamphetamine has been seized during a search, said Detective Sgt. Matthew Clark of the Augusta Police. Methamphetamine is highly addictive and chemicals used to make it are dangerous.
Augusta police said Thursday that multiple arrests and drug seizures signal the increased involvement of outside gangs on local drug trafficking. Police said three gangs, the P.Stones, Bloods and Tiny Raskals, have worked in the area. Augusta Police Lt. Keith Brann said the arrival of the gangs over the past few years has been marked by an increase in crime involving weapons, including handguns, and violent crimes, such as assaults, robberies and home invasions.
“This is the worst we’ve ever had it as far as gang stuff,” he said.
Violent criminal records
While the trafficking has had an indirect impact on the general public in the form of home and car burglaries by addicts seeking money to buy drugs, the violence has been limited to those connected to the gang members. The gangs, which want to keep a low profile, have not targeted the general public.
“The average person shouldn’t be scared,” Brann said. “If you’re not involved in this kind of activity, I don’t think you have to be concerned.”
But the gangs’ arrival has made curbing the drug trade much more difficult, and dangerous, for police.
“We’re dealing with dangerous people with violent felony records,” Clark said.
According to court records, two of those arrested Wednesday — Darvent Cummings, 22, and Tyrone Wilkins, 23, both of Stroudsburg, Pa. — have violent criminal records in Maine.
Cummings and Wilkins both were sentenced in fall 2012 to five years in prison with all but two years suspended and two years’ probation after pleading guilty to aggravated criminal trespass and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. They and another man allegedly forced their way into the Chase Avenue, Augusta, apartment of two women on April 6, 2012, and threatened them with knives and a handgun.
Cummings was released from custody on those charges on Dec. 4, and Wilkins on Dec. 13, according to Scott Fish, of the Maine Department of Corrections.
Before the gangs set up shop, much of the drug trafficking in central Maine was carried out by locals who would periodically travel to southern New England or beyond to buy drugs and return to Maine to sell them. Police often were familiar with those involved, and the trafficking rarely involved weapons or violent crime. Clark said gang members would pop up from time to time, but over the past few years there has been a steady stream of gang activity.
“It wasn’t a never-ending supply of people willing to come up here and work the business,” he said. “It’s a constant now.”
While there has not been a marked increase in the overall volume of complaints since the gangs’ arrival, Clark said officers are responding to more complaints that involve weapons and more incidents where violence is threatened or carried out. Searches of cars and homes for drugs have turned up dozens of stolen handguns and other weapons.
“The types of crime now are much more serious,” Clark said.
Rural and drug-hungry
The gangs are drawn to Maine by its rural makeup and its drug-hungry populace.
Heroin, which, with crack, has the strongest market, sells for roughly $2 per bag in New York City. It can be sold in Maine for $20.
“They’ve set up business and it’s a good business, unfortunately,” Clark said.
As was the case with Penley Street home, authorities said, the gangs often establish a home base by connecting with a buyer and promising to supply drugs in exchange for using the property. They use the same lure to attract people, often young women, to carry the drugs into Maine and, often use them to carry weapons out.
Clark said the city council’s creation of drug-free zones, which make it an aggravated charge to sell drugs within 1,000 feet of parks, playgrounds and other areas where children play, has helped police crack down on traffickers. Every officer is involved in curbing the illegal trade, Clark said.
“It’s been a focus and it will continue to be a focus,” he said.
In addition to Cummings and Wilkins, four others from Stroudsburg, Pa. were arrested Wednesday: Ricquell Lindo, 20; Tyshawn Mack, 21; Nathaniel Taylor, 19, and Kenya Evans, 20, as well as Shaquanna Khaleelah Jones, 18, of Mt. Pocono, Pa., and Peter Gleason, 32, of Augusta.
They and a 17-year-old girl were charged with aggravated trafficking in heroin.
Ryan Minoty, 21, of Augusta, was charged with unlawful possession of scheduled drugs and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.
According to the Maine DEA, the investigation was initiated Wednesday by Augusta police, and that officers from the drug enforcement agency helped execute a warrant at 1 Penley St., Gleason’s home.
Residents of the Mayfair neighborhood and nearby streets reported seeing officers with guns drawn in the area Wednesday afternoon.
Bail for Lindo, Mack, Williams and Cummings was set at $50,000 cash. Bail for Taylor was set at $25,000, and bail for Gleason, Jones and Evans at $10,000. Minoty’s bail was set at $1,500 unsecured and he was released from Kennebec County jail.
Those who can’t make bail will make initial appearances in court on Friday in Augusta.
Police said the drug investigation into the Penley Street operation is continuing and more arrests are likely.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642