Repeat offenders with ties to Chicago? Who’d ever have guessed?

Suspects in Duluth heroin bust had extensive drug records
By Tom Olsen Today at 12:19 a.m.

From left: Joanne Rose Smith, Courtney Victor Prude and Antonio Deandre Johnson Jr.

From left: Joanne Rose Smith, Courtney Victor Prude and Antonio Deandre Johnson Jr.

Since 1997, Courtney Victor Prude has been arrested 20 times for drug offenses, four times for gun charges and seven times for assault or battery. He’s served five prison stints and had at least six warrants for failing to appear in court.

Likewise, Antonio Deandre Johnson Jr. has been picked up nine times for drug offenses, once for assault and once for violating electronic monitoring conditions. He’s been to prison a half-dozen times and failed to show for court on at least nine occasions.

Both men, who have no apparent ties to the Northland, were arrested last month in a raid at a Central Hillside residence that Duluth police say has been the site of four heroin-related search warrants in a 15-month period.

Inside, Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force investigators reportedly found nearly 100 grams of heroin — among the largest quantities seized in a single bust in the area over the past several years.

Prude, 37, and Johnson, 25, are each charged in State District Court in Duluth with aiding and abetting first-degree sale of heroin, with prosecutors indicating that the duo could be eligible for longer-than-guideline prison sentences under Minnesota’s “career offender” statute.

“People are overdosing due to the use of heroin in our community, to the point where law enforcement is regularly using Narcan to restore their ability to breathe,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Chris Pinkert wrote in court documents, referencing the drug used to reverse the symptoms of opioid overdoses. “The safety of people is put at risk by the drug activity (Prude and Johnson are) engaged in.”

An additional defendant, Joanne Rose Smith, 43, of Duluth, already has pleaded guilty to her role in the case. Authorities described her has a local addict who was “used to conduct heroin transactions” by Prude and Johnson, who have extensive ties to Chicago.

All three were arrested during the execution of a search warrant at 450 Mesaba Ave. on Jan. 25. Investigators conducting surveillance at the residence reported that Smith would leave the upper apartment for short periods of time, meeting and conducting transactions with people in vehicles before returning to the residence.

The house already was known to be a “base of operations,” for heroin dealers from Chicago, according to police.

During the raid, police said Johnson attempted to flee but was apprehended, with a “substantial quantity” of heroin being found in his flight path. More than $3,100 in cash was found on his person, according to a criminal complaint.

Prude was located inside a bedroom, where investigators said they seized approximately 12 grams of heroin, a scale and packaging materials. He was in possession of nearly $700, according to court documents.

Police said several known heroin users also were in the house and admitted that Johnson and Prude had been using the residence to sell drugs. Smith also admitted that she had been assisting in the sales in exchange for heroin for the duo, according to the criminal complaint.

Investigators said they seized a total of 98.5 grams of heroin from the residence.

Smith entered into an agreement with the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office on Feb. 15, pleading guilty to two counts of third-degree sale of a narcotic drug. She’s expected to receive probationary terms when sentenced on April 3.

Johnson is being held on $1 million bail, with his next court appearance set for March 8. Prude, whose bail is set at $500,000, is due back in court on March 24.

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