Five indicted in alleged heroin ring

A mother and son and three other alleged members of a Baton Rouge heroin ring that used bogus businesses as fronts to distribute the drug were indicted Wednesday on racketeering and narcotics charges.

Christopher “Julio” Varnado, 31, 3821 Byrd Ave.; and his mother, Marlene Varnado, 51, 2042 Sobers St., were indicted on additional weapons charges.

An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury also charged two of the ring’s alleged Baton Rouge customers, one of whom is accused of purchasing heroin in the presence of her young child.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office will seek to have convicted felon Christopher Varnado, the group’s alleged ringleader, sentenced to life in prison as a habitual offender if he is found guilty on the racketeering, drug and weapons charges.

Varnado previously was convicted of possession of cocaine in East Baton Rouge Parish and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Harris County, Miss., according to the indictment. He also has drug and weapons charges pending in East Baton Rouge Parish before state District Judge Lou Daniel, court records show.

Also indicted Wednesday on racketeering and drug charges were Dearcy Dirone Robertson, 24, 1710 Duane St.; Ronza Robertson, 33, 16339 Hamilton Ave.; and Kenneth Robertson, 28, no address available. Dearcy Robertson is Ronza Robertson’s nephew, and Kenneth Robertson is their cousin, authorities said.

Christopher Varnado and Ronza Robertson were once boyfriend and girlfriend but later became partners in the illegal heroin business, authorities added.

The Varnados and Robertsons, who were arrested in June, face one count each of racketeering, possession with intent to distribute heroin, and possession with intent to distribute Roxicodone. Christopher Varnado also is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and Marlene Varnado is charged with a count of illegally supplying a firearm to a felon.

Some of the charges, including the racketeering charge, carry up to 50 years in prison upon conviction, Moore said.

Law enforcement officials said the arrests of the Varnados and Robertsons dismantled the local heroin ring. Moore has said the five were mid- to high-level heroin dealers.

Madeline Casey Lesage, 22, 11823 Morgan Hill Court, was indicted separately on one count each of possession of heroin and cruelty to a juvenile. Her indictment says she allowed a child to be present May 16 when she purchased heroin.

Erika Lynn Yarbrough, 38, 15825 Chivre Ave., also was indicted separately on a charge of possession of Roxicodone.

The cases have been assigned to Daniel.

Authorities have said the probe into the heroin ring was motivated in part by an increase in area heroin overdoses. Investigators have not linked the suspects to any of those deaths, but Moore has said heroin purchased from Christopher Varnado had been tested and found to be similar to heroin used in overdoses in the area.

The Capital Area Gang Task Force wiretapped the group’s phones, recorded drug buys and carried out search warrants. Marlene Varnado was heard during a wiretapped call warning her son about police surveillance, according to court filings.

Christopher Varnado used bogus businesses called Urban Imaging, Dope Man Entertainment and DME Janitorial to facilitate the criminal enterprise, authorities said.

The FBI, Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police were involved in the investigation into the heroin ring.