MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Dozens of people are now in custody including the suspected leader of a gang that was moving drugs around the state.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm says a joint operation targeted 53 people -- both drug dealers and users. Officials say they've arrested 48 of those suspects.
Officials say the drug operation was based on Milwaukee's East Side. After a year-long investigation that involved wire taps, Chisholm says authorities discovered a drug ring that had buyers from all over southeast Wisconsin and beyond.
The investigation focused on the East Side Mafiosa. Officials say the leader is 48-year-old Charles Ortiz. They believe Ortiz oversaw an organization that had been selling $4,000 worth of heroin a day.
"Just the scale of work they were doing on a daily basis, I think it surprised the investigators," said Chisholm.
Officials say they tied the gang to nearly a dozen suspected overdose deaths -- and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says the heroin has been funneled through Chicago by Mexican cartels.
"Once it`s in Chicago, it gets redistributed to areas like Wisconsin. I often refer to Wisconsin as a destination state because once the drugs come into Wisconsin, whether it`s heroin or anything else, they`re usually sold within the state or consumed within the state," said Jim Bohn of the DEA.
Officials say what's new in this case is the different approaches they'll take with users and dealers.
"The users were arrested and released and immediately directed toward treatment programs," said Chisholm.
While officials are pleased with the arrests, they say it's just a start.
"We have a lot of work to do, still. A lot of work," said Chisholm.
Chisholm says that work begins with arresting the five remaining suspects in this particular operation. He says more information will be released once a number of the suspects start going through court.