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Courts and Crime

Maine DEA Arrests 14 in Heroin Trafficking Ring

SOUTH PARIS, Maine — Law enforcement officials have arrested 14 people in connection with a heroin trafficking ring in Oxford County.

It's the state's first investigation to produce interstate conspiracy charges for heroin trafficking, and involves nearly 18 pounds of Mexican heroin distributed throughout the region over the last two years.

Even Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris was surprised by how quickly a heroin distribution ring organized out of Lynn, Massachusetts, was able to build an extensive network of drug dealers throughout rural Oxford County.

During the South Paris press conference to announce the 15 indictments and 14 arrests, Morris said the amount of heroin sold throughout the region over two years amounted to the equivalent of 80,000 individual doses of heroin with a street value of $3.2 million.

"Right now, it's a little more difficult to get your heroin today," he says.

Morris says the man at the top of the Mexican heroin distribution network is Brian Aquino, 34, of Lynn, Massachusetts, who was arrested Tuesday by Massachusetts police on felony charges of aggravated trafficking of heroin and drug conspiracy.

According to Maine drug investigators, Aquino was the main supplier for Del Hathaway, 26, recently of Saco by way of Lowell, Massachusetts, and Brianna Thayer, 26, of Bean Station, Tennessee, who Morris says face similar charges to Aquino's.

"These arrests are for conspiracy in addition to distribution of narcotics," he says. "The conspiracy charges raise the level of the crimes to a Class B charge. This is the first time that a conspiracy charge has been brought forward in a drug investigation at the state level."

The arrests in Maine netted only about an ounce of heroin, while a search of Aquino's apartment allegedly turned up and additional 10 ounces of heroin that Maine Drug Enforcement Administration Director Roy McKinney said would have been broken down into 2,800 doses.

McKinney says the Aquino network was a big-money enterprise with dealers doubling the price for their product at each stage of distribution. He says it's a whole new era, and new frontier for heroin traffickers.

"This is much different than the heroin crises that the United States experienced after World War II and after the Vietnam War where that heroin was low in purity and high in cost," McKinney says. "This is just the opposite. It's high in purity and low in cost."

McKinney says the current heroin market in Maine is a direct outgrowth of prescription drug epidemic that broke out in Maine in 1999. But he says dynamics of the OxyContin and oxycodone drug distribution system have been eclipsed by heroin.

"What we have is we have the Mexican cartels and the DEA released a public report in the last couple of months that details it very well," McKinney says. "The Mexican cartels are stepping in that void, if you will, from where the prescription pills have gotten expensive and they in turn have made heroin very available, very cheap."

McKinney credited police agencies in Massachusetts and Tennessee for their assistance in the Oxford County heroin bust, along with local, county and state authorities, and the Maine National Guard Counter Drug Task Force.