Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday announced that 26 people have been charged with allegedly operating a drug trafficking ring in Milwaukee, including an alleged Mexican gang member who served as the ring’s leader.
The charges were made as part of Operation Legend, a federal initiative to drive down violent crime in major inner cities, which had provided assistance to the ring’s takedown.
The attorney general said during a press conference that 21 of the 26 people were arrested on Tuesday and charged with drug trafficking-related offenses, including obtaining kilograms of cocaine and marijuana from California to distribute in the Milwaukee area. Among those arrested was Louis R. Perez III, also known as “Eight Ball,” who is alleged to be a Mexican Posse gang member and the leader of the drug trafficking ring.
Authorities also seized about 33 firearms, $170,000, and over 1.5 pounds of heroin and other drugs when executing search warrants, according to the Justice Department (DOJ).
Operation Legend is the latest major law enforcement program by the DOJ to crack down on violent crime across the country. It began amid surging crime rates in major metropolitan cities.
The operation began in Kansas City, Missouri, and has since been expanded to eight other cities, including Chicago; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Memphis, Tennessee; and St. Louis. It involves surging federal agents and resources to inner cities to assist local and state law enforcement officials to tackle violent crime and restore public safety.
The program was named for 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while sleeping in his home in Kansas City in June; a suspect has since been arrested.
The DOJ said over 3,500 arrests, including 815 individuals who were charged with federal crimes, have been made since the program launched in July. Of those arrests, 200 were charged for homicide, over 440 charged with firearms offenses, and more than 300 charged with drug-related crimes.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized over 1,000 firearms, nearly 42 lbs of heroin, over 200 lbs of methamphetamine, nearly 30 lbs of cocaine, and over 24 lbs of fentanyl, which is equivalent to five million fatal doses. Over $6.5 million of drug proceeds have also been seized, prosecutors say.
Barr had previously said Operation Legend has had a positive effect on fighting violent crime, with cities seeing falling rates of homicide and shooting incidents in recent weeks, adding that the program’s success is most apparent in Chicago.
The latest crime statistics released by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) found that there was a 45 percent drop in murders and a 15 percent fall in shooting incidents in August compared to the previous month. The department said the latest murder figures in August were the lowest numbers since April.
However, city officials responded to Barr’s comments linking the city’s falling murder rate to the success of the operation, saying “nobody should be taking a victory lap,” at this time.
“We are absolutely making progress, we are absolutely leaning into those federal relationships, but the cause and effect that Attorney General Barr tried to make today, I don’t think the facts bear that, not yet,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “I’m hopeful that these relationships and these additional resources would really bear fruit, but we’re still in the early stages.”
Along with Chicago, other cities also saw a drop in violent crimes such as Kansas City, St Louis, and Detroit.
In Milwaukee, authorities have charged 47 individuals with federal crimes. Other cities have also seen a similar trend: 147 federal arrests in Kansas City; 60 in Albuquerque; 72 in Cleveland; 65 in Detroit; 150 in Chicago; 205 in St. Louis; 27 in Memphis; and 45 in Indianapolis.