The Drug Enforcement Administration is celebrating a record-breaking seizure of heroin in the Bronx that would have been enough to supply a fix to everyone in New York City.
Authorities announced on Tuesday that they netted roughly 154 pounds of smack that smugglers had packed into kilogram bricks labeled "Rolex" under the floor of a Chevrolet Suburban. Agents also seized $24,000 cash from the vehicle, while a subsequent search of two Bronx apartments discovered $2 million hidden underneath the floorboards of one and a .380 caliber firearm in the other.
This was the most heroin seized by the DEA in New York State, and the fourth largest ever recorded in the nation.
"The $50 million street value of the heroin in this case is a conservative estimate," New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said in a statement. "To put it in perspective, this load was so large it carried the potential of supplying a dose of heroin to every man, woman, and child in New York City. While this important seizure stopped a huge amount of heroin from flooding our city, it also highlights the critical need to intercept heroin before it ever reaches our region."
The bust was the apex of a yearlong investigation coordinated with the NYPD and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, resulting in the arrest of Jose A. Mercedes, aka "Hippie," who is alleged to be the chief of a multi-million dollar heroin racket, and another trafficker, Yenci Cruz Francisco. The haul and the arrests were announced on Tuesday. Officials said that two other members of the ring, including Mercedes's son, were arrested in November.
A court-approved wiretap indicated that drug traffickers in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa State in Mexico, were supplying Mercedes and his accomplices with substantial shipments of heroin at least once a month. Culiacan is located in territory that is controlled by the Sinaloa drug cartel, which the US intelligence community has called "the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world."
Mercedes and Cruz Francisco were both charged with operating as a major trafficker and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, and are being held without bail. The pair is set to reappear in court on Friday.
Authorities described the criminal organization as one of the city's primary sources of heroin, providing an ample supply of the drug that would be processed by heroin mills and sorted into small packages for sale.
Officials believe the ring's heroin was also distributed outside of the city to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The drug has alarmingly grown in popularity on the East Coast — a trend that analysts attribute largely to the widespread abuse of opiate painkillers, which has encouraged addiction. As heavy opiate users find it difficult to obtain pills, heroin appears to be a cheaper and readily available substitute.
Law enforcement in New York City alone collected about $300 million worth of heroin last year.
"When there is a big supply, it will translate into a big demand," Brennan said last month. Her office has lately focused on ramping up heroin interdiction efforts.
Overdoses have become a major concern in various states along the Eastern seaboard, and in New England especially — deaths related to heroin use have outnumbered homicides in New York for the past two years. The fatalities have prompted a push for emergency responders to make wider use of Naloxone, a nasal spray drug known under the brand name Narcan that can instantly counteract an overdose.
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