MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Five people connected to a major heroin bust appeared in court today -- among the accused is Charles Ortiz Junior, who authorities say is the drug-ring leader's son.
Local, state, and federal officials announced a total of 48 arrests in Wednesday's press conference. Authorities say the massive heroin operation was based on the city's east side. Officials think they've got the leader -- and his son was among the five suspects who appeared Thursday afternoon.
Charles Ortiz Junior had company on Thursday when he appeared for a preliminary hearing. He faces six felony charges of selling heroin and cocaine. Authorities say his father, Charles Ortiz Senior, leads the 'East Side Mafiosa,' which was allegedly distributing heroin all over southeastern Wisconsin.
While one of the co-defendants reschedules his hearing, the other four, including Ortiz, plead not guilty. Investigators say they've tied the organization to nearly a dozen heroin overdose deaths.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office says it's confirmed more than 70 heroin deaths so far this year. That's more than twice as many heroin deaths in 2010. The Medical Examiner's Office notes, there are approximately 30 more suspects heroin deaths yet to be confirmed.
"Because it is so highly addictive, it's really easy for folks to get hooked on it and try it just once or twice and you're really hooked forever. It just gives you a high you never forget and unfortunately, you're forever chasing that high then," said Milwaukee County Medical Forensic Director, Sara Schreiber.
Schreiber says the growth in heroin use -- and deaths is connected to increased purity and drug manufacturers making it harder to abuse prescription drugs. She says anyone can become a heroin addict.
"We're seeing very affluent people to those that are not so much. It doesn't seem to have a real character that can be the stereotypical heroin user. It really seems to cross a lot of boundaries," said Schreiber.
The Medical Examiner's Office says it's confirmed another heroin death today, Thursday, November 13th, so the total for the year is now 72.
Schrieber says the range in victims' ages this year alone goes from 19 to 71.
The court documents for the suspects in this bust remain under seal, but we do know Charles Ortiz Senior is scheduled to appear in court on Monday, November 17th.