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OVER THE RHINE, OH (FOX19) -
The FBI has been investigating a street gang in Cincinnati called the Black Money Bloods since 2011. But it wasn't until last April, according to an agent's sworn statement filed in court, that a drug investigation began that would lead to the largest narcotics bust "in memory," as special agent in charge Ed Hanko put it Friday afternoon.
Around 6 a.m. Friday, nine FBI SWAT teams from as far away as Indianapolis and Cleveland descended upon Over-The-Rhine, snatching 16 men and women whom federal agents accuse of being a part of a major heroin and crack cocaine distribution and selling operation.
"Find a new business," Hanko said, in the style of an old G-man, during a news conference held at the FBI's field office in Kenwood.
In all, 20 people have either been indicted or charged with being part of the operation. As of Friday evening, three remained at-large.
Court documents show the FBI collected 8,000 calls and texts from a phone belonging to 21-year-old Shantez "Tez" Rembert. An agent's sworn affidavit accuses Rembert of being the head of the operation. "SR then supplies several individuals in Cincinnati, Ohio with crack cocaine and heroin," the affidavit says. "SR utilizes several different individuals and stash locations to assist him in the storage and distribution of these illegal drugs."
Among the wiretapped conversations detailed in court documents is one in which an FBI agent says he heard Rembert discussing a buy from 27-year-old Mario Harris of Cincinnati. It went like this:
MH: "What's up man?"
SR: "What up wit it?"
MH "I come back I need like 4 L's man. I'm startin' over from scratch man."
SR: "You got some?"
SR: "Grab me some."
In his sworn affidavit, the FBI agent says that "L" is street lingo for narcotics customers.
"I believe he is declaring that he needs four customers to whom he can sell narcotics," the agent said. During a later conversation, according to the agent, Harris accuses Rembert of not giving him enough money for the drugs. "I believe this conversation coupled with the earlier conversation that took place on that date (is) regarding a heroin transaction between SR and MH," the agent said.
At the FBI's local headquarters, Hanko said Friday he believes authorities have indicted or charged every major player involved.
"We had all of the subjects that we wanted to get wrapped-up in this," Hanko said. "As we went out any further, we would be to street level buyers. And we didn't want to get that diluted."
U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart says each of the suspects who've been caught will make a first court appearance on Monday. As for when they might face trial, he said it could be a long time "based on the evidence that's accumulated (and) the defendants' responses to plea offers, if any."
Court documents show many of the locations where drugs were sold or stored are near schools and public playgrounds. FOX19 spoke with several Over-The-Rhine residents who said they were happy authorities are moving in to clean-up the streets. However, they did not want to go on-camera.
A construction worker rehabbing a nearby school said he's thankful the neighborhood might be a little safer for the future students who walk through its doors.
"It means everything," he said.
If convicted, the suspects face anywhere from 10 years to life in prison, according to Stewart. And it appears many of the suspects were shocked at what transpired this morning.
"Some were very surprised," Hanko said. "It's not often that you have such a large force knocking on your door and coming to bring you to justice."