Cuomo Announces Multi-city Takedown As Part Of Upstate Guns, Gangs And Drugs Initiative

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 6, 2007) – New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced an unprecedented takedown as part of his Guns, Gangs and Drugs Initiative. The effort netted 87 arrests through a multi-state, multi-law enforcement agency action that commenced this morning, and set forth an aggressive model to help turn the tide in Upstate against guns, gangs and drugs.

“Today’s arrests deliver a significant blow to the elaborate organizations that funnel heroin, cocaine and other drugs into our communities,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Ridding upstate communities of such criminal activity is a priority of my office and involves targeting everything from street level dealing to top-level criminal enterprises. Working cooperatively with multiple Upstate law enforcement agencies to form coordinated investigations is key to fighting the crime epidemic across the state and is core to my office’s ongoing initiatives against drugs and illegal guns.”

More than 400 law enforcement officers were involved in today’s 87 arrests, which were part of “Operation: Thunder and Lightening,” a series of investigations being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF). Investigators, coordinating with multiple partners across the state, aggressively utilized sophisticated covert surveillance – including 95 wiretaps – as part of a cooperative approach with local law enforcement. Investigators seized over $260,000 in drugs, guns and cash to date -- approximately $120,000 in cocaine, $35,000 in heroin, $5,000 in marijuana and ecstasy and over $100,000 in cash were seized during the sweep.

This massive crackdown, the largest ever to be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, focused on drug distribution networks orchestrating the flow of heroin and cocaine into upstate New York – primarily in Rochester, Syracuse and Elmira. Over 5 kilos of cocaine, over 11 ounces of heroin (more than 2,000 glassine envelopes) and other narcotics have been seized as a part of the investigation. The defendants are charged with a variety of crimes from Conspiracy to Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, which is punishable by up to 24-years in prison.

In Syracuse:

In Onondaga County, 20 individuals operating in the Syracuse region were indicted for their roles in a heroin distribution network. The investigation resulted in the seizure of over 2,000 bags of heroin destined for the streets of Syracuse. Authorities also seized a defaced assault rifle from two defendants that they attempted to trade for heroin. The investigation also led to the interception of a handgun, a quantity of the drug ecstasy and a quantity of heroin from a residence.

Fifteen additional individuals were indicted for alleged heroin and cocaine trafficking between Onondaga and Monroe Counties. Authorities seized more than ¼ pound of heroin, an assault rifle, a handgun and more than $50,000 in cash.

“Operation: Thunder & Lightning” also struck a separate drug organization in Syracuse, with charges against three individuals for conspiring to possess and distribute heroin and the seizure of 73 bags of heroin. A large alleged cocaine trafficking ring in Onondaga County was also uncovered, resulting in the arrests of 26 individuals, including two from Cortland County and the seizure of more than two kilograms of cocaine, a small amount of heroin, three handguns, two rifles and more than $30,000 in cash.

In Rochester:

OCTF’s investigation determined the Rochester and Syracuse drug rings were linked. Defendants who were supplying heroin to Syracuse dealers were also part of a larger cocaine distribution network within Rochester – leading to the arrest of 11 more individuals on cocaine and marijuana charges. More than three kilograms of cocaine, two pounds of marijuana and more than $20,000 in cash were seized.

In Elmira:

In Elmira, an undercover tax investigator investigating the sale of tax-free alcohol at the Soft Tail Saloon on E. Washington Ave. was propositioned with an alcohol-for-cocaine exchange. This sparked an OCTF wiretap investigation resulting in a Chemung County Grand Jury returning an indictment charging 17 additional individuals for their participation in a cocaine trafficking network. Two other individuals were charged with misdemeanors for their role in the ring. Nearly six ounces of cocaine were seized during this branch of the investigation.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Chris Prather, Deputy Attorney General-In-Charge of the Organized Crime Task Force, said, “Today’s arrests underscore the Organized Crime Task Force’s commitment to Attorney General Cuomo’s efforts to crack down on the plague of guns and drugs across Upstate. It also proves that coordinated efforts by various law enforcement entities can prove a formidable force.”

Special Deputy Attorney General for Guns and Gangs Carl J. Boykin said, “As a lifelong resident of Central New York, I understand the challenges that we face in the ongoing battle with drug and gun runners and gangs. By coordinating services and resources between various law enforcement groups, we create a force to fight the scourge of guns and gangs that plague our communities and threaten our children.”

Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick said, “Today marks the culmination of a year-long investigation by members of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, working together to take drugs and guns off the streets of upstate and central New York communities. We are proud of our long-standing relationship and partnership with the Attorney General’s Office, including the OCTF. These indictments and arrests demonstrate for the citizens of our state that prosecutors, police officers and investigators in multiple agencies, at every level of government can, and do, work diligently, collaboratively and effectively in an effort to keep them safe. I also think it sends a strong message to drug dealers and gangs trafficking in drugs and guns that doing business in New York State will have dire consequences.”

Chemung County District Attorney John R. Trice said, “Today's operation in Elmira in which some 17 known drug dealers were arrested in connection with an investigation commenced months ago by the Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force, illustrates the success and effectiveness of multi-jurisdictional investigations. Without the extraordinary cooperation of the Task Force, the New York State Police Special Investigations Unit, the New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team and local law enforcement such as the Drug Enforcement Unit of the Elmira Police Department, a sweep of this magnitude would not be possible. The City of Elmira has today reaped the benefit of this collaborative effort. Elmira is indebted to all the various law enforcement agencies participating in this investigation.”

Monroe County District Attorney Michael Green said, “This case is another in a long line of cases demonstrating not only the connection between drugs, guns and violence but also how increasingly these networks extend between our communities. In Monroe County we have a long history of collaboration between federal, state and local police and prosecutors to attack the issue of drugs, guns, gangs and violence, and we are pleased to have Attorney General Cuomo’s Organized Crime Task Force as a partner in our efforts. In this case the Task Force, in connection with local law enforcement, has scored a major victory in our fight against this drug network. On behalf of the citizens of Monroe County I want to thank Attorney General Cuomo and all who worked on this case for their efforts.

Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance Barbara G. Billet said, “Our undercover tax enforcement officers, while pursuing cases involving excise tax evasion, often find themselves in the more dangerous, high-stakes netherworld of drug and firearms trafficking. Their dedication illustrates that the Tax Department will use every means available to capture and prosecute tax criminals. I wish to extend my thanks to the Attorney General and to his Organized Crime Task Force for their professionalism and their dedication to bringing these criminals to justice.”

Elmira Mayor John Tonello said, "We have known for a long time that Upstate cities like Elmira are not immune to the spread of guns and drugs, but thanks to the Attorney General Cuomo’s dedication and local efforts like the recent “Operation Crack Hammer,” we’re sending a strong message that we are not going to stand by and just take it."

“Today's arrests underscore Attorney General Cuomo's commitment to fighting the scourge of guns and drugs in Rochester and all across Upstate. The cooperation between the dedicated members of his Organized Crime Task Force, our Rochester Police Department and local law enforcement officials from across the state, and the results we are seeing, proves criminals in our hometowns will be facing a formidable force,” said Rochester Mayor Robert J. Duffy.

Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll commended the Attorney General and his office for coordinating this massive statewide initiative saying, “I cannot stress enough that this is the result of coordinated criminal investigating and networking initiatives that halted the flow of drugs and proliferation of gang activity. Our Syracuse Police Department's efforts combined with Attorney General Cuomo's team provided a powerful force that these lawless individuals could not overcome. Going forward, the continued relationship with agencies on a city, county and statewide basis is essential in preventing more organized crime cells in developing strength and size.”

The investigations leading to the charges announced today were carried out by OCTF with investigators from the New York State Police; the Department of Taxation and Finance; the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office; the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the U.S. Marshal’s Service; Syracuse, Rochester and Elmira’s Police Departments; the Sheriff’s Departments from Onondaga, Monroe and Wayne counties; the Cortland County Drug Task Force and the Greater Rochester-Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (“GRANET”). The cases were developed and are being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Attorneys General James Mindell, Gordon Cuffy and Irene Bardot of the Attorney General’s OCTF under the supervision of J. Christopher Prather, head of OCTF. Sgt. John Henderson and Officer Phil Sindoni of GRANET; Investigator William Soldato of Taxation and Finance; Supervising Investigator Ronald Vincent of OCTF; Investigators William Elsenbeck, J. Timothy MacConaghy; Paul Pendergast, all of OCTF; Inv. Doug Davis and Senior Investigator Joe Brainerd of the New York State Police; Sgt. Robert Milby of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, and Sgt. Todd Caufield of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department assisted in the investigation.


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