CLEVELAND, Ohio — Federal investigators and prosecutors in northern Ohio are seeking to create a new “strike force,” a designation that would put more money toward combating the heroin scourge and violent crime in northern Ohio through aggressive law enforcement.
The strike force would pool resources from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. If approved, the efforts would piggyback on the work already being done by agents who work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Acting U.S. Attorney David Sierleja said the strike force would encompass the Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force, which brings together agents from the FBI, IRS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration along with police from Cleveland, the suburbs and the county. The new strike force would help avoid duplicating efforts between law enforcement agencies to target large drug trafficking organizations, Sierleja said.
In order to be designated a bona fide “strike force,” the Justice Department would need to sign off. With that would come more money to target opioid and violent crimes, Sierleja said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies here applied for the “strike force” designation several years ago, but the Justice Department instead awarded it to Chicago, Sierleja said. Since then, he said the Justice Department “has seemed receptive to re-considering our application,” and the office here is working to put re-submit materials.
He did not have a timetable on when the materials would be submitted or when the Justice Department would make a decision.
The application comes at a time when Cuyahoga County is experiencing a record number of opioid deaths. Thirteen people suffered opioid-related deaths in the county over Memorial Day weekend, and the numbers are on track to far exceed the 666 opioid-related deaths in 2016.
It also comes as homicides and violent crime in Cleveland are reaching levels not seen in a decade.
When asked whether additional law enforcement efforts would put a significant dent in the number of opioid-related deaths, Sierleja said investigators are still trying to get a handle on where the heroin and fentanyl is coming from.
“All we can do is keep trying to keep them at bay and go after them aggressively,” Sierleja said of suppliers.
Cleveland has had other strike forces as well. Most notably, one put together in the early 1980s resulted in the local Mafia being dismantled.
Sierleja said earlier this month that he felt Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new directives to aggressively go after suspects in drug and violent crime cases will give his office the tools needed to pursue investigations that President Barack Obama’s administration discouraged. He said seeking the strike force designation is “consistent with what Sessions has been pushing.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/index.ssf/2017/05/federal_prosecutors_in_clevela_4.html#incart_river_home