Twenty three alleged heroin dealers have been rounded up, including three suspected drug kingpins who are accused of selling more than 1 million doses of dope at a street value of up to $11 million within the past year.
Suffolk County authorities said Frank Conte, a 29-year-old Bronx man out on bail for allegedly murdering a bartender, supplied raw heroin to three men who diluted and packaged the drugs in Queens and the Bronx before reselling 15,000 bags per week to 19 “runners” that supplied Suffolk users. The arrests over the past six weeks followed a 16-month wiretap investigation in which the accused dealers allegedly re-established the ring just two days after police raided one of their stash houses.
“We all know that drug dealers are heartless,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told reporters Tuesday in Hauppauge. “But this investigation took that heartlessness to a new low,” he said of dealers nonchalantly discussing a fatal heroin overdoses in recorded conversations.
Ricardo Rifino, 27, allegedly said on the wiretap that he was only interested in who the victim was buying from so that he could find out who his competition was, said Spota, who referred to the dealers as “purveyors of poison.”
An estimated four people per week fatally overdose on LI from heroin and prescription drug abuse, experts have said since the scourge has tightened its grip on the region in recent years. It has also led to a rash of purse-snatchings, burglaries and other drug-fueled thefts.
Rifino was charged with operating as a major drug trafficker and conspiracy along with alleged co-conspirators 32-year-old Carlos Melendez of the Bronx and 27-year-old Joel Guzman of Queens. The trafficking charge is punishable by up to 25-years-to-life in prison.
All three have pleaded not guilty at Suffolk County court. Guzman was denied bail, bail for Melenz was set at $1 million cash or $2 million bond and bail for Rifino was set at $500,000 cash or $ 1 million bond.
Suffolk County police initially raided Rifino’s Sayville home in 2009, seizing 2,500 bags of heroin and $80,000 in cash, Spota said. He had moved to Bethpage, pleaded guilty in that case and was awaiting sentencing when he was arrested again on the latest charges.
Five-thousand bags of heroin, 200 grams of raw heroin and two handgun were seized when cops raided the Queens stash house. Authorities said some of the brand names of the heroin allegedly being dealt include “Sweet Death,” “Starbucks,” “MySpace,” “Johnson & Johnson,” “Gotta Have It” and “Kneebender.”
Mark-up on a sleeve—100 decks, or individual $10 glassine envelopes of heroin—jumped from $500 in New York City to $1,000 when it reached LI buyers. Bundles, or 10 decks, jumped from $100 to up to $150, with prices increasing because of such drug busts, authorities said.
The other 19 alleged dealers were all charged with conspiracy. Sixteen of the accused are in their 20s. The youngest was 22 years old, the oldest was 58.
Local advocates praised authorities for the crackdown.
“One million bags of heroin off Long Island’s streets is a major victory in efforts to reduce the drug supply in our region,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence. “Still, those of us in the prevention and treatment field know that we have to work even harder to reduce the demand side of the equation if we are to eventually put an end to this heroin crisis.”