Mexico-based Drug Kingpin Indicted as Supplier of Fentanyl to New York City

Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, James J. Hunt, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) New York Division, New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II, announced the indictment of a Mexico-based drug kingpin and five others in a wide-ranging conspiracy to smuggle multi-kilogram quantities of fentanyl and heroin from Mexico for distribution in the New York City area.

In an indictment filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (SNP) for the City of New York FRANCISCO QUIROZ-ZAMORA , aka “Gordo,” is charged with New York State’s top narcotics charge, Operating as a Major Trafficker, as well as Conspiracy in the Second Degree and Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree. The charges follow a long-term investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, Financial Investigations Team (FIT) and SNP’s Investigators Unit. QUIROZ-ZAMORA and his five co-defendants are scheduled to be arraigned today in Manhattan Supreme Court before Justice Felicia Mennin, Part 22, 111 Centre Street.

The indictment identifies QUIROZ-ZAMORA, 41, as the Mexican-based source of recent large fentanyl shipments to New York City. The investigation revealed he had been involved in high-level trafficking for a number of years. A resident of San José del Cabo, QUIROZ-ZAMORA arranged for narcotics to be smuggled from Mexico to Arizona and California via trucks, cars and drug couriers. He communicated directly with New York City-based narcotics customers and arranged for members of his trafficking network to conduct transactions.

QUIROZ-ZAMORA is charged in connection with more than 20 kilograms of fentanyl (44 pounds) seized at the Umbrella Hotel in the Bronx on June 19, 2017 and on Manhattan’s Central Park West on August 4, 2017. During that time period, he received approximately $22,500 from an undercover officer via Western Union and wire transfer.

QUIROZ-ZAMORA travelled to New York City on November 27, 2017 for the alleged purpose of collecting an additional narcotics payment from the undercover officer. However, agents were waiting to arrest him at New York Penn Station, having tracked his travel cross-country. QUIROZ-ZAMORA took a circuitous route from Texas to New York, flying by commercial airline from Texas to Connecticut and then making his way to Delaware, where he boarded an Amtrak train to New York. Originally charged in a criminal complaint, QUIROZ-ZAMORA was previously arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on November 29, 2017 and ordered held without bail.

NYC Fentanyl Seizures Spike by Over 1000%

Over the past year, seizures of fentanyl in SNP cases increased by an astonishing 1220% from 35 pounds in 2016 to 491 pounds in 2017, and DEA seizures have increased 1030% from 59 pounds in 2016 to 671 pounds in 2017. This is attributed to the surging supply of fentanyl entering the city. Fentanyl is driving an alarming spike in fatal overdoses, which reached an all-time high of more than 1,400 deaths in New York City in 2017, according to preliminary data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. A dangerously strong synthetic opioid, fentanyl is approximately 50 times stronger than heroin and is increasingly found mixed into the illicit narcotics supply in New York City. Because fentanyl is easier for traffickers to produce than heroin, it carries a significantly higher profit margin.

Given that a dose of fentanyl weighing two to three milligrams can be deadly, the amount of fentanyl recovered in this case could have yielded millions of lethal doses. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin prior to being sold to drug users, who may or may not know what they are using. It is also sold in combination with cocaine or pressed into counterfeit pills and marketed as oxycodone or Xanax.

Fentanyl Seizures at Umbrella Hotel in the Bronx and Manhattan’s Central Park West

In June of 2017, an undercover officer posing as a New York City-based narcotics trafficker established direct contact with QUIROZ-ZAMORA by phone and negotiated the purchase of fentanyl for between $45,000 and $50,000 per kilogram. In the spring and summer of 2017, QUIROZ-ZAMORA allegedly orchestrated two sales of fentanyl to the undercover, indicating in each instance that a kilogram was available. QUIROZ-ZAMORA connected the undercover officer with representatives in New York City.

The new indictment charges CARLOS RAMIREZ, JESUS  PEREZ-CABRAL, DAVID RODRIGUEZ, JOHNNY BELTREZ and RICHARD RODRIGUEZ with Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the First and Third Degrees, Criminal Facilitation in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of a Firearm. The indictment supersedes charges in two previous indictments that named these defendants.

The June 19, 2017 sale was allegedly conducted by RAMIREZ, 27, a resident of Colorado, who met with an undercover officer in the vicinity of Elton Avenue and East 154th Street at approximately 11:40 p.m. Upon placing a package wrapped in tape inside the undercover officer’s vehicle, RAMIREZ was immediately approached by members of the Financial Investigations Team (FIT) and disclosed that he was staying at the nearby Umbrella Hotel, 681 Elton Avenue, in room 708.

As agents approached room 708, they noticed a black duffel bag sitting on top of a vending machine. Closer examination revealed the bag contained 17 packages, most of which were taped in the same manner as the package recovered from the car.

Subsequent DEA laboratory analysis determined the packages contained fentanyl, as well as the substance 4-anilino-N-phenethyl-4-piperidine (ANPP), which is a precursor chemical used in the production of fentanyl.  ANPP is separately defined as a controlled substance under the New York State Penal Law and Public Health Law. At the time, this was the largest seizure of fentanyl on record by DEA New York Division.

Following this seizure, QUIROZ-ZAMORA and the undercover officer remained in contact and negotiated another sale that was to take place on August 4, 2017. QUIROZ-ZAMORA put the undercover officer in contact with PEREZ-CABRAL, 20, a Manhattan resident who allegedly maintained a drug stash location at 448 Central Park West near 105th Street.

During surveillance of that location, agents observed DAVID RODRIGUEZ, 32, carry what appeared to be narcotics into a black Honda Accord driven by RICHARD RODRIGUEZ, 43, an Uber driver, at approximately 3:35 p.m. Agents stopped the vehicle at 121st Street and Amsterdam Avenue and recovered what subsequent laboratory analysis identified as a kilogram of heroin. Back at 448 Central Park West, agents approached PEREZ-CABRAL and BELTREZ, 33, as they exited the building at approximately 5 p.m. PEREZ-CABRAL claimed to live in Apt. 6D and admitted to having a gun and drugs inside the apartment.

After obtaining a search warrant, agents conducted a search and recovered two large ziplock bags containing powder, 1,100 individual dose glassine envelopes stamped with the brand name “UBER,” a loaded .25 caliber Beretta pistol and $12,000 in cash. Also seized were ledgers, multiple cellphones and drug paraphernalia, such as stamps, a heat sealing device, gloves, masks and empty glassines branded with assorted stamps, including “Panda” and “Wild Card.” Laboratory analysis determined the narcotics seized from the apartment included 2.5 kilograms (over five pounds) of powdered fentanyl plus 1,100 glassine envelopes containing fentanyl.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan thanked her office’s Special Investigations Bureau (SIB) and Investigators Unit, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark and all of the participants in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, Financial Investigations Team (FIT).

The New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, Financial Investigations Team (FIT), is comprised of agents and officers of the DEA, the New York City Police Department, the U. S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division and the New York City Sheriff’s Office. The Strike Force is partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which is a federally funded crime fighting initiative and part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said, “In New York City and across the nation, fentanyl is causing untold tragedy as it pushes the number of overdose deaths ever higher. This indictment demonstrates our collaborative approach and commitment to tracking those at the top of the lethal supply chain and putting them out of business permanently.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt stated, “This investigation provides the American public with an inside view of a day in the life of a Sinaloa Cartel drug trafficker; including international travel, money pick-ups, and clandestine meetings.  At the cusp of mainstream fentanyl overdoses, Quiroz-Zamora oversaw the delivery of multi-kilogram loads of fentanyl to New York, powerful enough to kill millions. The Strike Force and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor acted quickly and efficiently to seize the toxic kilograms before hitting the streets and arresting all conspirators, including the Kingpin.”

“Every day, this department is focused on intercepting deadly drugs headed for New York City,” said Commissioner James P. O’Neill. “Today, we have arrested a Mexican drug kingpin, responsible for large shipments of fentanyl, slated for distribution across New York City and the nation. My thanks to the detectives, agents, and prosecutors whose work makes New York City safer.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, “As fentanyl overdoses claim more and more New Yorkers’ lives, it is more important than ever that law enforcement works swiftly, collaboratively, and proactively and to shut this illegal trade down. We are proud to support the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s work to hold major traffickers accountable.”

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said, “Fentanyl has been ravaging my county of the Bronx, killing people and shattering communities. Tracing the source to its foreign origins and indicting the kingpin will help stem the flow of this high-profit poison to our city. I am pleased to work with our local, state and federal partners to target these major suppliers.”

“It is no secret that fentanyl is highly addictive, and it is a tragedy that suppliers choose to profit off the vulnerabilities of others,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York.  “We know that it will take a collaborative law enforcement effort to target and arrest those suppliers while halting the movement of opioids through our borders.”

New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “We simply will not tolerate this type of illegal drug trafficking activity in New York State. The valuable partnerships developed through the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force were instrumental in these arrests and the seizure of these lethal narcotics.  I want to thank our federal, state and local partners for their ongoing hard work and collaboration on this case, which has resulted in disruption of a major drug trafficking operation, the arrests of six individuals and removal of these dangerous criminals who profit at the expense of our communities.”

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

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

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

Erin Mulvey
DEA New York Division
(212) 337-2906

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