Officer Michael Bowman, spokesman for Cobb police, said the department’s year-long investigation into a gang within the county resulted in a heroin drug bust that uncovered a network of drug sellers and purchasers.
“It was a very in-depth investigation,” Bowman said. “It was more in connection with the criminal organization activity than the heroin.”
Police can’t release many details about the investigation, said Maj. Dale Bolenbaugh, because they are not finished serving the 56 warrants involving 48 individuals brought about by the investigation into the gang Good Product Team, also known as Product.
Bolenbaugh said 25 of the 48 individuals are in the county jail as of Thursday.
“To keep the officers safe during the execution of additional warrants, we would rather not list the names of the people that have yet been picked up on the active warrants,” Bolenbaugh said.
Bolenbaugh said the investigation focused on the gang Good Product.
“Over the course of the investigation, probable cause was developed that indicated several members of the gang Good Product were involved in the sale and distribution of heroin and other illegal drugs. In addition to the sale and distribution of heroin and illegal drugs, members of Good Product were also associated to other crimes …which cannot be revealed at this time,” Bolenbaugh said.
Bolenbaugh said the year-long endeavor was aimed at stopping the flow of heroin through the county.
“The goal of this investigation was to dismantle the Good Product gang, arrest gang members of the organization who were responsible for criminal activity and to stem the flow and sale of heroin in Cobb County,” Bolenbaugh said.
According to the warrants, Ezzard Evans was one leader in the gang, which police were tracking during their investigation.
Evans, 26, of Atlanta, was arrested by Cobb Sheriff’s deputies Tuesday morning and is being held in the Cobb County jail without bond on charges of drug trafficking, violating the racketeering act, participating in gang activity and communicating with gang members to conspire to possess drugs or sell them.
“From September 2013 through present, the Marietta-Cobb-Smyrna Organized Crime Task Force Intelligence Unit (MCS Intelligence) and MCS (Criminal Apprehension and Gang Enforcement Unit) have been investigating the activities of a known criminal street gang; specifically the drug trafficking and distribution activities of one of its members, Ezzard Evans, who is a distributor of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine operating within Cobb County,” according to the warrant for his arrest.
Through Evans, police found a network of people who worked with him, according to the warrants.
Three names of gang members were released in warrants from the investigation: John Franklin Ho, Aurelius Giovanni Madison and Antoine Maurice Atkinson.
All three were arrested and booked into jail at the same time as Evans. The three each face one charge of violating the state racketeering act, participating in gang activity and communicating with gang members to conspire to possess drugs or sell them. Both Ho, 41, and Atkinson, 26, of Marietta, also face a charge of trafficking heroin. Both Atkinson and Madison, 24, of Atlanta, face a charge of attempt and conspiracy to sell drugs.
Ho, of Marietta, was identified as a “street-level seller” of heroin by police when two undercover agents bought heroin from him at his tattoo parlor, called Tattoos by Ho, on Cobb Parkway by Barclay Circle.
The tattoo parlor is described as “a known heroin distribution location” in the warrants.
“April 1, 2014, the accused did sell approximately 1.8 grams of heroin to an undercover narcotics agent for $225.00. On April 2, 2014, the accused did sell approximately 6 grams of heroin to an undercover agent for $700.00. Both purchases occurred at the business of Tattoos by Ho,” according to the warrant.
All four members of the gang were charged with using telephones to communicate about committing the felonies of planning to receive, sell or distribute drugs, according to the warrants.
The warrants accuse Ho of contacting Evans by phone “on numerous occasions to inform Evans he was out or almost out of narcotics,” according to the warrants.
Bowman said no other details can be released about the investigation into the gang.
Kim Isaza, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office, said no one from the office can comment on the gang because it violates pre-trial publicity laws preventing attorneys from speaking about facts before a trial.
Increasing use of heroin
Cobb Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman, who oversees juvenile and family drug courts, said the gang-related heroin bust “isn’t one bit surprising.”
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase of heroin use in my family drug court, as well as my juvenile drug court,” Stedman said. “Everybody in the state of Georgia is seeing an increase in heroin use.”
Marietta High School Principal Leigh Colburn said she is aware of the problem in Cobb, because she knows families in the county whose children have overdosed on heroin. Colburn led a symposium at the high school in June to raise awareness about the abuse of the drug, which 400 people attended.
“Having (48) people arrested for distribution right in the center of Marietta, that tells you that this is happening in Cobb,” Colburn said.
Stedman said in Cobb, she has seen the drug used most often in the areas of east Cobb and among middle class, affluent residents because “heroin is more expensive than other drugs.”
Stedman said the increase started about two years ago. Other judges have a theory, she said, that the rise was brought on by a crackdown in Georgia on opiates in pill form. She said drug addicts turned to heroin when pills became harder and riskier to buy.
“There is definitely an increase in use, which means they’re buying it on the street,” Stedman said.
Stedman said people as young as 14 are brought to her juvenile drug court on charges of purchasing heroin, and she sees many who were exposed to it on college campuses.
“Heroin is a nasty drug to treat, and a nasty drug to recover from,” Stedman said.
Colburn called the use of the drug in Cobb and in Georgia “an epidemic,” and she said Marietta High School will host another symposium Oct. 8 focused on treatment and recovery for addicts and their families.