Federal and local law enforcement agents on Wednesday rounded up 13 members of rival Chester drug gangs, capping a multiyear investigation into drug dealing in the impoverished Delaware County city. The arrests brought the number of members of the two gangs in custody to 22.
The takedown of members of the 3rd Bone gang and the William Penn gang resulted from coordinated efforts by the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI, Chester police, Pennsylvania state police, and other agencies, according to William M. McSwain, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“These two groups have operated drug territories next to each other and have terrorized the community members living and working in this area,” McSwain said at a news conference Wednesday at Chester police headquarters, flanked by law enforcement officials. “But today, this reign of terror ends.”
Nine of those charged were already in custody, and the 13 others were arrested in raids of their homes Wednesday morning, officials said. The federal indictments charging them, unsealed Wednesday, include crimes committed from May 2016 until last month.
Members of 3rd Bone — or 3BM — were charged with 70 counts, including conspiracy, firearms possession, and dealing crack cocaine, fentanyl, and heroin, the officials said. Of the 13 gang members indicted, 11 are from Chester, one is from Upland, and one is from Marcus Hook.
The nine members of the Penn gang — named for the city’s William Penn housing projects — were charged with 19 counts, including distribution of crack cocaine and firearms possession. Eight of the indicted gang members are from Chester, and one is from Essington.
The gang rivalry, McSwain said, “at times actually reads like a Hollywood story line, with one notable exception. The facts here were all too real for those living in this area of Chester who had to put up with this criminal activity.”
The rivalry to sell drugs got so intense, he said, that on Feb. 21, two Penn gang members shot a member of 3rd Bone, causing serious injuries, and the victim put a bounty on the head of someone from the opposing gang, McSwain said.
Eight of those arrested were considered so dangerous that SWAT and hostage-rescue teams from the FBI and the Philadelphia Police Department participated, officials said. In addition, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, FBI crisis-response agents from Quantico, Va., and agents from New York, New Jersey, and Delaware were involved, officials said. No force was used during the arrests, McSwain said.
“In my 22 years in the bureau, we’ve never had an operation of this size. I personally have never had one of this size where we went out and got every single one of our subjects,” FBI Special Agent Joe Bushner said. “I give a lot of credit to a lot of good old-fashioned law enforcement work that put these people where they’re at.”
Authorities estimated they confiscated 280 grams of crack cocaine from each gang, totaling 560 grams with an estimated street value of $28,000.
On Wednesday at Third and Lamokin Streets, in the heart of 3rd Bone’s alleged territory, at least one resident was not impressed by the drug raids and predicted they would not rid the community of drugs.
“Chester is going to be the same,” said Debra Cooper, 63, who has lived in Chester for 18 years. “There’s drugs all over the city. They got some off the streets, now they need to go to the other side of town and get the rest of them, in Highland Gardens and Bennett Homes.”
But Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland said operations like the one announced Wednesday “create hope” in the community and help to explain why homicides in Chester decreased by 38% in 2018.
And Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said the arrests “send the message to those who choose to deal in violent behavior and drug activity that there is a serious price to pay.”