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59 charged after feds crack down on gun, drug crimes to stem violence in Cleveland, U.S. Attorney says

U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko stands behind a podium at a press conference in Downtown Cleveland.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideasteam Public Media
U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko stands behind a podium at a press conference in Downtown Cleveland on Sept. 5, 2023, regarding a number of arrests made on gun and drug charges after an anti-gun violence initiative in Cleveland.

Nearly 60 people were charged and arrested in connection with firearms trafficking, narcotics, conspiracy or other firearms offenses after a three-month, violent-crime-reduction initiative in Cleveland this summer, U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko announced Tuesday.

Lutzko, flanked by federal, county and local law enforcement officials during a press conference in Downtown Cleveland, said the majority were charged in U.S. District Court, while the remaining individuals were charged in state court.

Those charged were apprehended in a series of coordinated arrests made during the last two weeks, Lutzko said.

The arrests were the result of an investigation led by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives focused on reducing gun crime in several parts of Cleveland using data to identify illegal firearms sellers and disrupt their trade, she said.

"A significant number of those firearms are connected to violent criminal activity, including homicides and felonious assaults, that took place in Cleveland and surrounding Northeast Ohio suburbs in 2022 and 2023," Lutzko said.

Officials said they seized more than 240 firearms, 203 of which were purchased from illegal sellers and permanently removed from Cleveland’s streets. Among the guns seized, 17 are “ghost guns,” which are unserialized, untraceable and typically assembled at home, and 28 are machine gun conversion devices or “switches” that enable a firearm to fire in fully automatic mode.

The gun seizures and arrests were made possible by intelligence gathering that began at the end of the winter, said ATF Director Steven M. Dettelbach. Agents and other members of law enforcement began enforcement operations at the beginning of June.

ATF Director Steven M. Dettelbach speaks from behind a podium at a press conference in Downtown Cleveland
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
ATF Director Steven M. Dettelbach commended the members of law enforcement who worked to stem violence in Cleveland by focusing on gun crime. "This is about following the gun," he said. "That’s what we did here." One gun recovered by law enforcement was tied to 14 different shootings, he said.

Analysts focused on following the flow of firearms and identifying the people who use them to commit crimes, he said. In one case, law enforcement said they purchased more than 50 firearms from seven people. In another case, agents identified five people who they said were actively conspiring to conduct a home invasion and rob, at gunpoint, what they believed to be a “stash house” containing several kilograms of cocaine.

"When you follow the guns, you'll get to very, very violent individuals," Dettelbach said. "It’s no secret … that there’s a serious violent … gun crime [problem]. Much of that is fueled by a small number of people. The actual number of trigger pullers is significantly smaller, and we need to focus on them."

Analysts used information from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to connect seized weapons to Northeast Ohio crimes, including homicides and felonious assaults, that took place in 2022 and 2023, according to Lutzko.

The investigation also resulted in drug charges, Lutzko said. Law enforcement purchased or seized almost 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 215 grams of cocaine base, almost 3 kilograms of methamphetamine, 686 fentanyl pills, almost 1.5 kilograms of heroin/fentanyl mix, and 1,144 MDMA pills, which is commonly called Molly or Ecstasy.

"Guns and drugs go together, unfortunately," Dettelbach said.

Agents are not done, Dettelbach said. He announced plans to build on the kind of work agents have done using intelligence to follow guns to interrupt the cycle of violent crime to create what he called a crime gun intelligence center in Cleveland in a matter of months.

"We are fully committed to making that happen," he said before addressing criminals directly. "To the folks out there doing violent crime, we’re going to find you. We’re going to catch you, and we’re going to hold you accountable under the law."

Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.