LORAIN – In a combined effort of the Lorain and Elyria police narcotics units, more than $320,000 in drugs were confiscated during the execution of five separate search warrants Tuesday morning.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, representatives from both police departments released details about the bust, which resulted in nine arrests and warrants issued for five others.
“We started working this case right before the holidays started and, as a result, it was a very complex case as these guys are very complex drug traffickers,” Elyria Sgt. James Welsh said. “They were getting multiple kilos and heroin in from out of state and then breaking it up to sell in Lorain County.”
The combined investigation, which also took place in conjunction with the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office, the Lorain County Crime Lab, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Office of Attorney General Mike DeWine, targeted the alleged drug trafficking organizations of Hugo Lopez, 45, and Rafael Esquilin, 34.
“We knew they had been together for quite some time,” Lorain Detective Christopher Colon said. “We had knowledge of them in 2008 and 2009 and back in 2012. We had to get intelligence on them in order to get the investigation going.”
The organizations were considered to be two halves of a partnership in which the drugs were then pushed out to Rolando Carter, 26, Eric Corn, 29, and Bobbie Corn, 35, before being passed on to street dealers, police said.
“Carter and the two Corn brothers have been dealing drugs in Lorain County since probably the early 2000s and all of these guys are people the Lorain and Elyria narcotics units have targeted,” Welsh said. “They sell drugs in both cities. We’re going to continue to align ourselves together and work together in order to keep people like this off the street.”
The five search warrants were executed at 1307 W. 17th St., 3007 Riverside Drive, 911 W. 14th St., 1815 W. 19th St., all in Lorain, as well as 335 Brace Ave., Elyria.
As a result of the investigation, the following was seized: 435 grams of heroin, 1,020 grams of cocaine, seven pounds of marijuana, six handguns, six automobiles, three motorcycles, three ATVs and $83,445 in cash.
United States Postal Inspectors also intercepted two kilograms of cocaine in relation to the drug trafficking organizations, police said. In total, the street value of the drugs is estimated to be $320,000.
“We believe that based on the investigation that it’s coming from the west in the Chicago area and then filtering into and around Lorain County,” Colon said. “Lopez and Esquilin were actually getting the drugs in and almost immediately getting them out through Lorain County and as far east as Cleveland.”
This operation was one of three major operations the departments have tackled together in the last two years. In March 2015, 30 people of the Burns, Milton and Tillman families were arrested in what police termed a family-related drug ring based out of Elyria.
In that case, officers executed 17 search warrants, seizing more than 3,300 grams of cocaine, 20 grams of heroin, 97 grams of marijuana, five handguns, 10 cars and $84,100 in cash.
In July 2014, Wayne Norris, 27, of Elyria and six members of his friends and family were arrested and officers seized over a kilogram in heroin in addition to seven motor vehicles, $3,000 in cash and $47,000 in frozen bank accounts, police said.
Lorain Capt. Roger Watkins said the dedication of the officers involved is what makes operations like this one work so well.
“The investigators here went through the holidays and as such they lost time with their families,” Watkins said. “This was critical that we get this done. These gentlemen are all dedicated professionals, spending hours and hours in cars and hours and hours behind cameras making this case happen.”
Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said one of the hardest things about operations like this one is how much time is spent working on them.
“I can tell you that these types of investigations do not work at convenient times,” he said. “They often will work 20 hours a day and I mean really the officers that work these operations put in countless hours to get this done. They did a great job. They work very well together and the outcome speaks for itself.”
Welsh said the operation was so important due to the scope of the organizations.
“I know we had 15 (drug) overdoses last week (in Elyria) and three of those resulted in deaths,” he said. “None of these guys were arrested in connection with supplying that but I guarantee you based on our investigation that some of the drugs the street dealers supplied to those who overdosed and died came from these guys.”
Welsh said the drugs affect people of all walks of life, from the inner city of Lorain to the county’s suburbs.
“It takes its toll on the people’s families involved and obviously it’s one of the reasons we put so much time and effort into dealing with the drug problems is because of how it affects society,” he said. “Obviously other crimes occur like burglaries and assaults, all of that stuff is related to drugs in my opinion.”
The suspects are currently being held at the Lorain City Jail on one charge each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Bond was set at $1 million.
Those jailed are: Lopez, Esquilin, Eric Corn, Bobbie Corn, David Pena, 32, Enid Rojas, 40, Angel Rivera, 61, Jonathon Barnette, 19, and Eliezer Claudio.
Lopez and Pena both were arrested in Florida by members of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Colon said Lopez is a native of Florida and had moved back to the state since the operation began and Pena was there visiting.
In addition, there are warrants for Carter, Carlos Rau Lopez, 49, Felix Guzman, 40, Sherman Ward, 59, and Eric Velazquez Cosme, 30.
“We do have warrants out for the other five people,” Colon said. “And we have been contacted by several attorneys that they’re possibly getting ready to turn themselves in. If not, we have teams that will be out there looking for them.”
Welsh said the minimum sentence for the felony charge facing all 14 individuals is 11 years in prison due to the amount of drugs and level of conspiracy.
Additional charges are pending the case’s presentation to a county grand jury.
Anyone with information on the five at-large suspects is being asked to call either department’s narcotics unit at (440) 204-2100 (Lorain) or (440) 323-3302 (Elyria).