Seventeen drug dealers or users were located, with most rounded up Monday, while three others were confirmed as already in confinement in the largest drug sting operation in the Tamaqua area in years.
"We had 17 body warrants for the Tamaqua area," said Schuylkill County District Attorney Christine A. Holman as law enforcement officers from the Schuylkill County Drug Task Force, Schuylkill County Sheriff's Office, and police departments from 10 municipalities joined forces and converged on Tamaqua and local communities.
"We've been working on this since last October," Tamaqua Police Chief Rick Weaver said.
The operation was underway at 6 a.m. as county agents and municipal police gathered in Tamaqua to launch a full-scale hunt that rounded up suspects and brought them in to the police station, handcuffed, two and three at a time.
The first arraignments took place at 9:30 a.m. before Magisterial District Judge Stephen J. Bayer.
Officers and drug task force members executed warrants largely in Tamaqua and the Owl Creek section, along with Hometown, Still Creek and Lansford. But other communities were involved as well.
For instance, as of late Monday, police were still looking for Justin S. Nahf, 25, of Telford, and Maria Motroni, 26, of Allentown.
"Most were heroin or other harmful narcotics," Holman said. She explained that strategic use of video, confidential informants and hand-to-hand buys were key to identifying suspects.
Holman and First Assistant District Attorney Maria T. Casey remained on hand throughout the day to help process suspects at arraignments and to weigh in on bail issues.
"I prefer no bail, but realize that's not realistic," Holman said.
Casey emphasized that preparation was crucial; the detail necessary to pull off such a major operation is what made the roundup a success.
"It takes weeks of information," she said, noting that the use of surveillance is typically the starting point.
"It all culminated this morning," Casey said Monday as suspects were paraded into the magistrate's office.
According to details outlined in charges, the primary drugs appeared to be heroin and methamphetamine. Cocaine, amphetamine, hydrocodone and marijuana also appear on the list, along with drug paraphernalia.
The operation involved multiple police and county vehicles, marked and unmarked, and a passenger van required to transport groups of suspects to county jail.
Children were affected in some situations, necessitating intervention by Children and Youth Services.
Without support from that agency, some children would've been left without adult supervision, such as one situation in which a 10-year-old and 16-year-old would've been left to fend for themselves at their household.
"It's heartbreaking for the kids," Holman said.
Law enforcement officials from the following municipalities were pressed into service: Tamaqua, Rush Township, Lansford, Summit Hill, Nesquehoning, Minersville, Hegins Township, Frackville, Pottsville, West Mahanoy Township and West Penn Township.
The drug bust was the largest in the Tamaqua area in many years.
Last June, a similar but somewhat smaller sting netted 14.
Holman said the work of local police was outstanding.
"Great thanks to Chief Weaver and the Tamaqua police department and those from the other towns lending a hand. You can be sure Tamaqua police will provide similar support to their towns, as well."
Holman said additional arrests are possible because "one tip may lead to two or three more arrests."
She also said the drug sweep serves notice that drugs will not be tolerated.
"Anyone dealing drugs in Schuylkill County is a harm to the community. It's a travesty," she said.