James Triplett had his customers lined up around the corner in broad daylight, the feds say. Not for concert tickets. Not for iPhones. For heroin.
Now 42 people are facing state or federal drug charges for their alleged roles in supplying and distributing heroin around West Grenshaw and Independence in the North Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
Among them is the 33-year-old Triplett, also known as “Trell,” who authorities said controlled the drug market in the area.
Investigators even included a photo in a federal criminal complaint spanning more than 200 pages. They said the photo depicts a line of people waiting on June 16 to get their hands on heroin supplied by Triplett's organization in the 3700 block of West Grenshaw.
The photo was taken just south of the Eisenhower Expressway, which has come to be known as “Heroin Highway.”
The feds said Triplett's suppliers sometimes put the heroin in bags with logos that included green Playboy bunnies, Hershey kisses, basketballs, Batman, black pandas or “purple ladies.”
"Early this morning, they woke me up," said North Lawndale resident Precious Archer.
Archer said around 7 o'clock, four agents were knocking on her door near the 3700 block of West Grenshaw, which is ground zero of the alleged drug ring.
"They had pictures of people, basically asking did we see this person," she said.
Authorities say the heroin was diluted to increase profits.
"This is one of those locations that we always talk about, a drive up location on the West Side where people come in from the suburbs to buy narcotics and return," Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
The DEA said the drug was obtained from Mexico. Its sale generated nearly a quarter of a million dollars every month.
"This multi-agency investigation...represents a significant hammer-blow to the open-air drug markets operating in North Lawndale and Douglas Park," McCarthy said.
DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Dennis Wichern, who worked on the case, said: "Every day, one person in Chicago dies from a heroin overdose."
Chicago police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force led the investigation. Sixteen people face federal charges. They include Triplett, who is charged with drug conspiracy and faces a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted. Another 26 face state charges.
Authorities said they arrested 32 people in all Wednesday morning, confiscating 12 guns, $50,000 in cash, nearly half a kilogram of heroin and more than a half a kilogram of cocaine. They also searched several homes, three alleged stash houses and seized two cars, including a 2014 Maserati GranTurismo.