Authorities hope bust puts a dent in drug market


Authorities busted a suspected Chicago-to-Peoria drug-trafficking ring, arresting seven men on federal drug charges and seizing more than $1 million in cocaine and cash.

The men, running what police called "an organized criminal enterprise," appeared in U.S. District Court on Thursday on a charge of conspiracy to distribute more than 11 pounds of cocaine in the Peoria area.

"That’s a big hit for the drug dealers to take," Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard said during a Thursday afternoon news conference. "We’re hoping it hurts the trade."

The accused, Codell Harris, 33, of Glenwood; Kareem Tracy, 30; Steve Collins, 28; Colin Coleman, 27; and brothers Bernard Douglas, 34, and Tyrice Douglas, 35, all of Peoria; and Flancea Snorton, 31, of Peoria Heights; all were indicted last week for conspiring with others from October 2002 until this year to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 50 grams of crack cocaine.

An eighth man remains at large and is also charged with conspiracy.

"We’re going at the sources here," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Keith said of the busts. "As a result of the arrests here, I think cocaine, especially, is going to be a lot harder to find on the streets of Peoria."

The raid was the culmination of an 18-month investigation involving the Peoria Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Group and others.

In a coordinated strike, officers stormed five homes Wednesday — four in Peoria and one in Peoria Heights — finding $22,000 in cash, more than 2 pounds of marijuana, 2.5 ounces of powder cocaine and a handgun.

At nearly the same time, DEA officers caught Harris during a traffic stop outside Chicago and found 11 pounds of cocaine and 5 to 10 pounds of marijuana inside a hidden trunk compartment. The traffickers also stored narcotics in a chest of drawers with a false lid. Drug dealers "just keep getting better all the time. They are very intelligent," said Peoria Police Lt. Tom Burke, who heads the department’s vice unit.

The drug weights are statutory limits that enhance a possible prison term to up to life in prison and impose a mandatory minimum of 10 years. In the federal courts, crack cocaine is treated differently than powder cocaine.

All but Harris waived a bond hearing but their court-appointed attorneys reserved the right to have one in the future. Harris’ bond hearing is scheduled for July 9. The seven men are set for an Aug. 27 jury trial before U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm.

In addition to the conspiracy, Coleman faces another charge of possession of more than 50 grams of crack with intent to distribute.

Although calling the operation a great success, police cautioned that the war on drugs is far from won.

"We know that other drug dealers are going to try to pick up the slack," Settingsgaard said. "The challenge for us is to find out who they are and work on those cases, as well."