Seventeen drug dealers or users were located and rounded up Tuesday and 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 ten 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 under way 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 worked in Tamaqua and the Owl Creek section, along with Hometown, Still Creek and Lansford.
One suspect from Schnecksville indicated to police she would turn herself in, but that was still pending as of late Monday.
"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 getting the job done.
Holman and First Assistant District Attorney Maria T. Casey remained on hand throughout the day to help process suspects at arraignment 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 difference.
"It takes weeks of information," she said, noting that surveillance is typically the starting point.
"It all culminated this morning," said Casey as suspects were paraded into the magistrate's office.
According to charges, the primary drugs appeared to be heroin and methamphetamine.
The operation involved multiple police and county vehicles, marked and unmarked, and a passenger van required to transport groups of suspects to county jail.