Twenty Charged in Sales of Heroin and Fentanyl in Brooklyn: Customer Fatally Overdosed on NYC Subway

stamp     American Dream

Two face top narcotics charge Operating as a Major Trafficker: Firearm seized

Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced today the arrest and indictment of 20 individuals in connection with sales of heroin and fentanyl in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The defendants include members of multiple, interconnected, street-level drug organizations and their common supplier, who allegedly sold heroin laced in at least certain cases with fentanyl analogues under the brand name “American Dream.” During the investigation, police learned of three drug overdoses, including two fatal overdoses and one non-fatal overdose, believed to be linked to narcotics bearing this brand name.

An indictment filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (SNP) and unsealed in Manhattan Supreme Court is the result of a long-term wiretap investigation with the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Narcotics Borough Brooklyn North and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez reviewed and submitted multiple eavesdropping applications for court authorization. Arraignments are scheduled to begin today before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Neil Ross in Part 23, 100 Centre Street.

Beginning in September of 2016, a member of a Brooklyn-based drug organization allegedly headed by defendant AKEEM KING, aka “AK,” made numerous sales of purported heroin stamped with the brand name “American Dream” and a picture of the Statue of Liberty to an undercover police officer. Investigators were able to piece together the hierarchy of the drug distribution network by tracking the unique brand stamp which appeared to have a limited distribution. Sales took place in the vicinity of Myrtle Avenue between Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Throop Avenue, an area that contains two New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residential developments, the Sumner Houses and the Tompkins Houses. KING allegedly maintained a drug stash location in this same vicinity at 212 Throop Avenue, a building located in the Tompkins Houses, where others of his co-conspirators resided.

As the investigation progressed, police learned of three drug overdoses in December of 2016 and January of 2017, including two fatal overdoses and one non-fatal overdose, linked to the brand name “American Dream.” Working in conjunction with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, SNP initiated a court authorized wiretap investigation in February of 2017, which ultimately led police to identify the supplier of the “American Dream” branded narcotics, ROBERT GONZALEZ. Both GONZALEZ and KING are charged with Operating as a Major Trafficker under New York State’s kingpin statute, the only state narcotics offense carrying a possible life sentence.

The investigation revealed that GONZALEZ supplied not only KING’s organization, but another street-level dealer, defendant DARREN LEE, aka “Ice,” who was operating in the same general area. LEE is charged with selling heroin laced with fentanyl analogues to a 33-year-old victim, who suffered a fatal overdose on a subway train in Brooklyn on the evening of December 29, 2016.

The victim, a 33-year-old mother from New Jersey, was found on a subway at the G line’s Church Avenue stop by a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) conductor. Rushed to a hospital by police and EMTs, the woman was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at 11:09 p.m. Found in her possession were three unopened and two opened individual dose glassine envelopes of heroin stamped “American Dream.” Subsequent laboratory analysis by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Division revealed the envelopes contained a mixture of heroin and two fentanyl analogues, furanyl fentanyl and para-fluorobutyryl fentanyl.

Last week, LEE was contacted by an undercover officer representing to be the deceased woman and arranged to sell more heroin. When LEE arrived at an agreed upon meeting place on Friday, December 1, 2017, he was met by detectives who found him to be in possession of multiple glassines of heroin and placed him under arrest.

A dangerously potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl and its common analogues are an order of magnitude stronger than heroin—with fentanyl itself approximately 50 times stronger than heroin. They are increasingly found mixed into the illicit narcotics supply both in New York City and around the rest of the country. Fentanyl and its analogues are driving a spike in fatal overdoses, which reached an all-time high of approximately 1,374 deaths in New York City in 2016. This is a 46% increase over 2015, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which attributes roughly half of these deaths to fentanyl.

Intelligence developed during the course of the investigation indicated that KING oversaw an organization consisting of at least 14 other participants, many of whom were dealers selling heroin in multiple public housing developments in Brooklyn. The organization sold thousands of glassines of purported heroin a week to a large customer base. During the investigation, the undercover police officer bought more than 200 glassines of purported heroin from one of KING’s dealers for over $2,000. GONZALEZ provided more than $10,000 in purported heroin at a time to KING.

The defendants, in particular the members of the organization that KING directed, used coded language to discuss their trafficking of heroin and demonstrated keen awareness of law enforcement’s presence and scrutiny throughout the investigation. Whenever police officers were spotted in the area, the defendants alerted one another and suspended narcotics activity to evade detection.

In a recorded telephone conversation on March 25, 2017, KING warned another defendant who remains a fugitive to adopt specific counter-surveillance measures in response to the presence of police, having explained, “They know that we in that buildin’. I’m in that building, you in that building…so we gotta play a little chess with them,” to which the dealer stated, “Yeah, play some real Beethoven chess with them.”

On July 7, 2017, another defendant, CURTIS WRIGHT, aka “Curt,” told KING that three police officers were conducting surveillance from a car, stating, “There’s three of them in there, they got the binoculars lookin’ at the building.” Later that same day, after having been told by KING of the return of the police, WRIGHT explained that he had already directed other participants in the organization to “shut it down” and “don’t dope nobody.”

In another call on September 8, 2017, KING told GONZALEZ about ongoing police presence in the vicinity of 212 Throop Avenue, stating, “I’m spooky. I’m scared to walk out and come, know what I mean. I don’t want them following me or nothin’.” Later that same day, he arranged for another member of the organization, KARINA MORLA, aka “Cookie,” to meet GONZALEZ at a restaurant in the vicinity of the corner of Halsey Street and Broadway.

During the investigation, a dispute developed over drug turf between KING’s organization and DARREN LEE, and revealed that both valued the specific brand of heroin stamped “American Dream” that they received from GONZALEZ.

On July 21, 2017, KING asked GONZALEZ if he was supplying glassines of heroin stamped “American Dream” to any other traffickers in the area, to which GONZALEZ replied that the only other dealer was LEE, stating, “Nah, only only Ice.” Another defendant who allegedly partnered with KING in operating the drug organization, NATHANIEL MCDONALD, aka “Nate” aka “Biggie,” also discussed LEE with GONZALEZ, threatening him that competition from LEE was creating a problem.

Finally, on September 15, 2017, KING told GONZALEZ that he had met LEE, who worked in a barber shop, and told him to cease distributing glassines of heroin stamped “American Dream” in the vicinity of the Sumner Houses and Tompkins Houses.

Police arrested GONZALEZ on Myrtle Avenue early in the morning of October 12, 2017 as he was allegedly arriving to deliver to KING approximately 5,000 glassines of purported heroin, which he was carrying in a bag. Having obtained a court authorized search warrant for GONZALEZ’s apartment at 1380 Bushwick Avenue, detectives recovered there more than 1,200 glassines of purported heroin, stamped “American Dream,” among other stamps, and approximately $19,000 cash. They also found a baby in the apartment.

After GONZALEZ’s arrest, members of KING’s organization discussed using a new source of supply. On October 13, 2017, KING told a narcotics customer that he could not obtain heroin stamped “American Dream,” and had to introduce a substitute, stating, “I can’t get the AD right now, but I’m not gonna let all the money go past.” In a later conversation KING told defendant ANTHONY WILLIAMS, aka “Ant,” that he would try to obtain heroin stamped “Red Dragon,” another prevalent brand known to detectives.

While customers viewed the new supply as acceptable, KING told another defendant on October 16, 2017, that “Red Dragon” was not as good as “American Dream,” stating, “It’s good, but, it aint…nothing like the other title.” On November 1, 2017, WILLIAMS was arrested and found in possession of glassines of purported heroin stamped “Red Dragon.”

KING and 14 other defendants were arrested this week, in connection with the execution of arrest and search warrants that led to the seizure of a loaded firearm and more than $65,000. GONZALEZ has been in custody since his arrest on October 12, 2017. In addition, two other alleged dealers of purported heroin whom GONZALEZ supplied were arrested earlier in the year, JUAN GONZALEZ after detectives watched him sell to two customers on September 14, 2017, and JOSE ORTA, aka “Wolf,” after he sold purported heroin immediately outside of PS 257, a public elementary school in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

FRONTIS BRAXTON, aka “Flave,” and CARMEN VAZQUEZ, aka “Mimi,” two other heroin dealers whom KING directed in the organization, were previously arrested on November 5, 2017, after police officers saw BRAXTON outside the Sumner Houses holding a firearm and chased him into 1031 Myrtle Avenue. Police found him inside an apartment together with CARMEN VAZQUEZ, the loaded firearm, a quantity of glassines of purported heroin stamped “Red Dragon,” and a baby.

The indictment contains charges of Operating as a Major Trafficker, Conspiracy, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in or Near School Grounds, Attempted Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Attempted Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Criminal Possession of a Weapon, Criminal Possession of a Firearm, Unlawfully Dealing with a Child and Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan thanked Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and commended the work of her office’s Trial Division and the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Narcotics Borough Brooklyn North. Ms. Brennan thanked DEA New York Division for assisting in the investigation as well as the New York City Department of Investigation’s NYCHA Office of the Inspector General, which assisted in placing covert surveillance cameras used in the course of the investigation.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said, “Drug dealers are pedaling death in New York City, often supplying deadly fentanyl or even more powerful variations in the guise of heroin, cocaine or black market pills. We are targeting those who exchange poison for profits. They will face the most serious charges and stiffest penalties we can bring.”

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “Drug traffickers poison far too many people in Brooklyn, devastating communities with their deadly products, destroying lives and families, including, in this case, a young mother. These drug organizations, which were operating out of Bedford-Stuyvesant, have now been taken off the streets. We’ll continue to work with our law enforcement partners, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and the NYPD, to stop the spread of these very dangerous and highly-addictive drugs.”

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

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Kati Cornell
(212) 815-0525