June 21, 2006

Busted! 30 Arrested In Drug Sweep

Their faces stared out from huge posters set up outside of the Southold Town Police Department on Monday. Young and old, male and female, there was one common denominator linking them all: None were smiling for their mug shots, because they'd all been busted on drug charges in a massive undercover sweep that resulted in 30 arrests.

The arrests were the result of a highly cooperative effort between East End Drug Task Force detectives, who have been working on the North Fork during an intensive two-month investigation of street-level sales of crack, powder cocaine and marijuana.

Many of the arrests were made in the Village of Greenport. Others were arrested in nearby locations. Among the 50 criminal charges filed against the defendants, 24 were felony counts for sale and possession of cocaine. Twenty-eight of those arrested had prior felony convictions, one was a parole violator, and four were gang members, with three belonging to the Bloods gang and one to the Crips.

Last fall, a similar bust in Riverhead sparked a migration of drug dealers toward Southold. "Many moved east and as a result, we moved east, as well," said Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. "Drug dealers are moving, they're mobile, and we have to move with them."

Present, along with Spota at Monday's press conference to announce the major victory for crime fighters, were County Executive Steve Levy, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, Greenport Village Trustee Jamie Mills, Southold Town Police Chief Carlyle Cochran, Southold Town Captain Martin Flatley, and Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hagermiller, and a bevy of law enforcement officials, detectives, and police officers.

One major reason for the massive busts, said Spota, was the hiring of additional East End Drug Task Force personnel. When he first came on board in 2002, there were four or five law enforcement officers working on the task force. Today, there are 19. The number, he said, "has quadrupled. The increase in task force strength is due to the cooperation of village and town governments and their willingness to combine resources to disrupt street level drug sales east of Brookhaven."

And it's a much-needed effort. "There's been an increase of drug activity on the East End," acknowledged Spota. As the East End has grown, "we've received not only an increase in residents, but an increase in crime. We're prepared for it."

Levy said residents need to wake up and face the hard facts: "Many people believe that pockets of sleepy, rural East End communities are immune to gang or drug activity. This is a false impression. Gangs are everywhere."

There are two ways to deal with rising crime, said Levy: Either remain in denial, or take the situation seriously and address it, which, in this instance, "has resulted in great success."

Levy explained that although the SCPD extends from Brookhaven Town west, they offered "a lending hand, regardless, because it was the right thing to do."

And on the county level, Levy said almost one million dollars has been earmarked for the EEDTF, evidenced by increased personnel.

After the press conference, Levy said that other measures have been instrumental, including an increase to two tours, instead of one, an asset seizure component, a technical component including wiretaps and the opportunity for residents to call in tips: "Sort of like Crimestoppers for the East End."

The EEDTF is a multi-jurisdictional drug enforcement unity, funded and supervised by the DA's office, comprised of detectives and law enforcement officials from East End town departments including Southold, Riverhead, Shelter Island, and East Hampton, as well as village departments including Westhampton Beach, and East Hampton. Also involved are the New York State Police Troop L narcotics enforcement unit, Suffolk County Police Department narcotics and emergency services units, the district attorney's squad detectives, the county department of probation, and county sheriffs.

Spota credited the success of the undercover mission to cooperation on every level. And, he said, since the first time since 1987, the task force includes the New York state police, which he deems a "force multiplier for investigation of illegal drug trafficking and sales on the East End."

And the good news didn't stop in Southold: Spota also announced the arraignment in Riverhead county court Monday of Eddy Rodriguez, who, along with codefendant Eddi Hernandez, were charged with first-degree sale of a controlled substance for delivering one kilo of cocaine to an undercover task force detective on May 17 in the parking lot of the Boulder Creek restaurant in Riverhead.

After Hernandez was arrested in the parking lot, Rodriguez drove away, only to be arrested 10 days later by the United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force in New York City's Washington Square Park. Rodriguez was arraigned on a grand jury indictment.

Russell thanked the EEDTF for a job well done. "Everyone coming together for one single purpose, sharing our resources for the health and welfare of the people, that's good government." And he had another message for the STPD: "You've made Southold Town proud today."

Mills, who represented the Village of Greenport in the absence of Mayor David Kapell, who is out of town, shook Spota's hand and thanked him personally. He said that residents are grateful for all the hard work involved in the investigation, which has enabled village residents to remain confident that "Greenport is a safe place to live."

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