By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors arrested and charged dozens of suspects on Friday in early-morning raids targeting drug gangs operating in Chester, a historical town outside Philadelphia that has earned a reputation for violent crime.
The sweep in Chester, founded in the 1600s on the Delaware River south of the city, led to 33 arrests, and additional charges for seven people already in jail. It marked the third major narcotics sweep in the town since 2003.
In 14 separate indictments, federal prosecutors painted a grim portrait of drug dealers who used violence to maintain control of a section of the town, known as the oldest in Pennsylvania.
"Residents of a city blighted by violence often feel like law enforcement has just given up," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Ed J. Hanko in a statement.
"That's clearly not the case with the FBI, and all of the partners involved in today's arrests," he said. "We'll keep working to make Chester's streets safer - corner by corner, block by block."
Prosecutors say the raids captured the leaders of a crew that controlled crack cocaine and heroin distribution in a section of the town.
The group was known to stash guns and drugs in playgrounds, alleyways and abandoned houses to avoid being caught with them if members were stopped by police, authorities said.
The defendants include Paris Church, 52, an accused drug supplier for the crews. He is accused in five separate indictments of distributing 25 kilograms of cocaine.
More than half of those arrested face life sentences in prison. The remainder face maximum sentences that range from 20 to 334 years.
In recent decades Chester, with a population of roughly 34,000, has developed a reputation for street crime and a high homicide rate. It last made headlines in May when the mayor's wife was the victim of a car-jacking.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)