After a drug overdose left a person dead inside a bungalow off Plank Road in July, law enforcement traced the drugs suspected of killing them half a mile south to an unlikely location: The Salvation Ministry of Jesus Christ church.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s deputies and Central Police officers executed warrants Tuesday at three locations, the sheriff’s office said, arresting the operation’s alleged leader and recovering a half-pound of fentanyl, five pounds of a substance used to cut the potent opioid and a laundry list of assorted other drugs and weapons. The man accused of running the operation was arrested on 18 drug and weapons counts.
Arrest documents in the case reveal how a casualty of the surging opioid crisis led investigators to a man they would later describe as a dealer responsible for peddling large amounts of the deadly drug to residents.
Though they also raided two other locations, deputies found the most drugs inside the church, sheriff’s spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks said. The building on Paige St. is more of a house than a traditional church — it is occasionally referred to as a “residence” in arrest documents. Law enforcement photos show seats and a preacher’s pulpit set up in what appears to be a living room, with speakers and a wooden cross flanking a fireplace.
The operation’s accused leader, 27-year-old Hakeem Allen, sold marijuana, heroin and pills from that building, investigators wrote in an arrest report. Deputies caught Allen trying to run from the church property as they served one of the warrants on Tuesday.
Allen denied owning any of the drugs found at the locations and denied selling drugs, arresting documents say.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Allen had an attorney. Records show he appeared in court for a bond hearing Wednesday, where a state judge set his bail at $43,000.
The probe into Allen apparently started as an effort to catch the dealer responsible for selling tainted drugs that killed a person who overdosed in late July at the bungalow off of Plank Road. The overdose victim, who arrest documents do not identify, allegedly bought heroin and fentanyl from Allen around July 22, snorted it, and was later found dead, arrest documents say.
An autopsy determined the death was a drug overdose.
A tip from an acquaintance of the overdose victim led investigators to Allen. Over the next two months, EBRSO narcotics deputies would track his movements with video and electronics, eventually staging three so-called “controlled buys” where detectives oversee an informant who purchases drugs from a suspected dealer.
Allen allegedly ran his operation from two principal locations: the church and at a house on North 48th Street, where authorities reported finding scales, the cutting agent and pill presses. He also allegedly sold smaller quantities of narcotics directly to users from those two locations, documents show.
Wearing a wire, the informant used bills with pre-recorded serial numbers to buy heroin from Allen at the church and North 48th Street house. Deputies later used a technology called “TruNarc” to find fentanyl in the heroin, arrest documents say.
At night, deputies followed Allen as he retired to his parents’ home on West Magnolia Drive.
When authorities executed the warrant there on Tuesday, they reported finding five guns, 600 rounds of ammunition and more than $60,000 in cash. Allen’s parents denied any knowledge of the large amounts of cash found in their home, documents say.
As overdose deaths soar, some lawmakers have sought to toughen penalties for those who distribute fentanyl. A law passed in the latest state legislative session stiffens jail sentences in cases where fentanyl is found to have directly caused a person’s death.
District Attorney Hillar Moore, whose office has mounted a campaign to support people suffering from addiction at locations with high overdose rates, criticized Allen’s bail amount as too little for someone found with an amount of fentanyl the sheriff’s office described as equal to 448 lethal doses.
“My office will review this case immediately amongst ourselves and the Sheriff’s office to determine if any additional facts exist that would warrant a reconsideration of the bond amount under these facts and circumstances,” Moore said in a written statement.
City-Parish leaders, including top Baton Rouge Police brass and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, have laid blame upon judges amid the opioid crisis and recent wave of violent crime, criticizing bond amounts they say are too low. That idea clashes with recent efforts to reform East Baton Rouge’s bail system, which has often held people before trial longer than most other parishes.
On Tuesday, an unsealed federal indictment shed light on an even larger drug-distribution operation in Baton Rouge than the one Allen allegedly ran. A crew of dealers who formed major suppliers of heroin and cocaine routinely exchanged dope at run-of-the-mill places in the city, like Walmart parking lots and outside the Mall of Louisiana, prosecutors alleged.
Some of the people under indictment are accused of storing drugs at a house on East Lakeshore Drive, a tony area near LSU, court documents say.