Charleston, Mo., portrays itself as a sleepy little town near the Mississippi River, with Victorian homes and an annual Dogwood-Azalea Festival.
But that sleepy town woke to big excitement Monday, as 60 officers from federal, state and local police agencies swept in at dawn with warrants to arrest 45 people on charges of distributing crack cocaine.
That's nearly one out of every 100 of the 4,732 residents.
The town, in Mississippi County about 150 miles south of St. Louis, sits near the intersection of Interstates 57 and 55, major routes heading toward St. Louis, Chicago and Memphis.
The arrests capped an 18-month investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Missouri State Highway Patrol and Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force, officials said.
Hitting the streets about 6 a.m., agents arrested 35 of the 45 people they were seeking by 9 a.m., authorities said. All of those arrested had addresses in Charleston except one, from Kalamazoo, Mich. They ranged in age from 18 to 48.
Among the suspects, 16 have been indicted in federal court on charges of crack distribution, and 19 were facing state drug trafficking charges, authorities said. Most of the state charges specify distribution of controlled substances near public housing.
Police involved directly with the raids were not available for comment Monday. It was not clear whether authorities believe the accused were working together.
Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Rafferty issued a statement that said the town's drug problem has been festering.
"The distribution of crack cocaine has been a growing problem in this area for the last several years. The arrests of these drug dealers will make a significant impact not only on the drug trade, but also the associated violence," she said.
Mayor Marshall Currin could not be reached for comment Monday.
Betty Hearnes, wife of former Gov. Warren Hearnes, who at 80 still practices law in Charleston, said the region needs more employment. "If we could get the jobs, and get people to work, then people would have a family and have a home and look to the future," she said.
James Conn, a City Council member and former mayor, said police have been swamped with illegal activity in Charleston's public housing complexes. But the said drugs are a problem in some of the region's other communities too. "We're not unique. These small towns are fighting this war," he said.
Reporter Peter Shinkle: