EVANSVILLE — A federal investigation has led to the arrests of 29 men and women — including 23 from southern Indiana and western Kentucky — and the seizure of more than 700 grams of fentanyl, enough to kill 350,000 people, authorities announced at a press conference Friday in Evansville.

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They also reported finding 46 pounds of meth, $300,000 in cash, 30 firearms, six vehicles and a pill press machine.

Those arrested from the Tri-State area were residents of Evansville, Petersburg, Princeton and Mount Vernon in Indiana and Owensboro and Henderson in Kentucky. Charges against the suspects include conspiracy distribution of fentanyl and methamphetamine, illegal firearms possession and robbery.

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U.S. Attorney Zachary Myers of the Southern District of Indiana said 30 suspects were identified, and 29 have been arrested. L.C. Moore, 28 and of Indianapolis, is still at large and is considered a fugitive by police.

The drugs came into Indianapolis from Mexico and were then distributed throughout central and southern Indiana. Authorities say Julian Green and Jeramey Smith, both of Indianapolis, were the ringleaders, allegedly working with Nicholas Cabrera of Mulberry, Florida, and Joshua Wilson of Evansville to coordinate the deliveries. Cabrera and Wilson were both already federal prisoners at the time the ring took shape and communicated with others via phone, authorities said.

Agent Mike Gannon of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Indianapolis district, said it is crucial that the public be made more aware of the dangers of fentanyl, which is lethal in miniscule amounts and is increasingly being found in counterfeit pills made to resemble oxycodone and other legal prescription drugs.

"We cannot accept this in our communities," Gannon said. "This is very serious stuff ... very scary stuff."

Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl — barely enough to cover the tip of a pencil — is a lethal dose to most humans. It is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Gannon said that of about 9.5 million counterfeit oxycodone pills the DEA has seized in the U.S., roughly 40% contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.

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Myers said the lethal dosage for fentanyl is so small that it can easily kill those who did not intend to ingest it but are accidentally exposed.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding bemoaned the lack of good drug education in communities and what he sees as relatively lax sentencing for those convicted of drug distribution.

"This is a war on drugs, and we are not winning," Wedding said. "These drugs are ruining lives. Until we demand severe punishments for drug dealers we will continue to see (people) at risk. We need to invest more in drug education programs, because what we are doing right now is not working."

If convicted on the drug charges, defendants could face 10 years to life in prison and fines of up to $10 million.

Local agencies participating in the investigation include the Vanderburgh County Sheriff and Prosecutor offices, Evansville Police Department, Princeton Police Department, Warrick County Sheriff, Posey County Sheriff, Posey County Drug Task Force and the Henderson and Owensboro Police Departments. The investigation was coordinated across three states by the DEA, FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals Service.

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