Fourteen Charged in Sales of Fentanyl, Heroin and Cocaine in Washington Heights: Investigation Followed Overdose Death

Fourteen Charged in Sales of Fentanyl, Heroin and Cocaine in Washington Heights: Investigation Followed Overdose Death

Over $350,000 in Narcotics and Marijuana, Five Firearms Seized

Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. announced today the arrest and indictment of 14 alleged members of two narcotic trafficking groups that sold heroin, cocaine and fentanyl in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Police recovered five firearms and large quantities of cocaine, heroin and marijuana at the time of the arrests.

Two indictments filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and unsealed today in Manhattan Supreme Court are the result of a long-term wiretap investigation with the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Narcotics Borough Manhattan North and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. reviewed and submitted multiple eavesdropping applications for court authorization. Arraignments are scheduled to take place today before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Neil Ross in Part 23, 100 Centre Street.

Police initiated the investigation, dubbed “Operation Scorpion Sting,” following the fatal overdose of a 35-year-old woman on June 24, 2016 at 601 West 191st Street in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Envelopes of narcotics found with the woman’s body were stamped with the brand name “Scorpion.” Laboratory testing determined the envelopes contained the synthetic opioid fentanyl. An analysis of the overdose victim’s phone and other evidence recovered from the scene led police to identify an individual involved in narcotics-related activity in the area.

The investigation led police to identify members of two loosely-connected drug distribution groups operating in the vicinity of 190th Street and 191st Street in Washington Heights and three of their suppliers. Over the course of 11 months, the defendants allegedly made 34 sales of heroin, cocaine and a mixture of heroin and fentanyl to undercover NYPD officers. None of the defendants are charged in the overdose death.

The first drug sales of the investigation occurred on July 8, 2016 at 603 West 191st Street. An undercover officer purchased two glassine envelopes that contained a mixture of heroin and fentanyl and were stamped with the brand name “Scorpion.”

Prior to the sale, the undercover contacted defendant FRANKIE SANTANA by phone and requested heroin. SANTANA then allegedly directed the undercover to defendant CHRISTIAN RODRIGUEZ, who conducted the sale of the two glassines bearing the “Scorpion” stamp. Subsequent laboratory testing determined these envelopes contained not only heroin, but fentanyl as well.

A dangerously potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl is approximately 50 times stronger than heroin and is increasingly found mixed into the illicit narcotics supply. It is driving a spike in fatal overdoses, which reached an all-time high of approximately 1,300 deaths in New York City in 2016. This is a 30% increase over 2015, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which attributes more than half of these deaths to fentanyl.

From July 2016 through May 2017, undercover officers continued to purchase narcotics from SANTANA and several other alleged members of the same drug distribution group.

In the meantime, the wiretap investigation was initiated in November 2016. Intercepted phone calls revealed the defendants used coded language to discuss narcotics sales and the possession and sale of firearms.

The wiretap investigation led police to identify two alleged ringleaders, ELCIRES CRUZ and his uncle ERICK CRUZ, both of the Bronx, and their alleged cocaine, heroin and marijuana supplier, DENNY GUERRERO, also of the Bronx. Eight of the arrested defendants are associated with this group are charged together in one indictment.

Beginning in December 2016, the investigation expanded to include the second narcotics trafficking group operating in the same area. Six defendants associated with this group are charged together in an indictment, including the alleged leader, DENNIS BUENO, and a heroin and cocaine supplier, GENARO LIRIANO, both of Manhattan.

On Tuesday afternoon, NYPD officers observed LIRIANO sell a large quantity of narcotics in the lobby of 601 West 149th Street and recovered over 1,300 grams of cocaine (nearly three pounds) and 100 grams of heroin from the drug customer a short time later.

Members of the NYPD’s Narcotics Borough Manhattan North arrested 12 defendants in Manhattan and the Bronx on Wednesday morning and conducted court authorized searches at several related locations. Two defendants were already in custody at the time.

Police recovered five firearms from the homes of JEAN RODRIGUEZ, ELCIRES CRUZ, ERICK CRUZ and ADRIAN CRUZ. Approximately three kilograms of cocaine (nearly seven pounds), more than 7,000 glassines of heroin and over $340,000 in cash were also seized. A court authorized search of a Storage Post unit located at 301-305 West Fordham Road in the Bronx and a vehicle yielded 60 pounds of marijuana.

The two indictments contain charges of Conspiracy, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Criminal Sale of a Firearm, Criminal Possession of a Weapon and Criminal Possession of Marijuana.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan thanked Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark and commended the work of her office’s Trial Division and the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Narcotics Borough Manhattan North.

“The prosecutions announced today reflect our commitment to vigorously prosecute those who sell drugs that destroy lives, and to prevent the spread of addiction by taking lethal drugs off our streets,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said. “Our partnerships with the New York City Police Department and with District Attorneys Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and Darcel D. Clark are critical if we are to turn the corner on this epidemic.”

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

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Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office
Kati Cornell
(212) 815-0525

New York City Police Department
Stephen Davis
(646) 610-6700

Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
(212) 335-9400

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