CHARLOTTE — Charlotte has become a key distribution point for Mexican drug traffickers selling "black tar" heroin in North Carolina, with seizures increasing, authorities say.
The U.S. Justice Department's 2009 assessment of drug threats identified Charlotte as one of 230 cities where Mexican traffickers "maintain drug distribution networks" to sell cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines and heroin, The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday.
John Emerson, assistant special agent in charge for the North Carolina bureau of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, would not disclose how many Mexican cells operate in Charlotte other than to say "multiple."
Black tar heroin starts with opium from poppy plants grown in western Mexico. The opium is chemically converted into black tar, with a color and consistency of warm, chewy chocolate that results from crude processing methods. It can be smoked in a glass pipe or melted, then injected.
Since 2005, heroin seizures in Charlotte have increased from 214 grams to 714 grams, or 233 percent. A little under a 10th of a gram is considered a single dose.
Statewide, seizures increased 77 percent last year, the DEA said.
In the past two years, authorities have shut down at least three cells in Charlotte. In September 2007, seven men were arrested in the garage of a Charlotte house. Authorities seized $114,000 and 24,000 doses of heroin.
In an investigation called "Operation Black Gold Rush," authorities arrested a 27-year-old man on charges of leading 13 people in a black tar ring in Charlotte.
Authorities said the group also was active in South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, California, Ohio and Arizona.
And last year, Israel Hernandez, 21, was arrested, accused of running a nearly million-dollar business from a neighborhood. Authorities said the organization prepared black tar and dispatched couriers to deliver it to suburban customers waiting outside public places.
"This activity took place seven days a week and ranged from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.," James Long, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police vice and narcotics unit, said in an affidavit.