Over the weekend, federal agents descended upon an exclusive enclave of New York City that they say served as the distribution hub for all five boroughs as well as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. On Tuesday afternoon, the DEA announced that their raid resulted in the fourth-largest bust in the American history.
About 154 pounds of dope are now in police custody.
In a statement, NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said $50 million was a "conservative estimate" for the street value of the drugs. "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," she added.
For about a year, the feds had their eye on alleged ringleader Jose "Hippie" Mercedes and another man named Yenci Cruz Francisco, whom they suspected of receiving monthly shipments of heroin from Culican, Mexico. That area is controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel; back in November, the DEA charged Mercedes's son and man named Juan Infante for their alleged roles in the enterprise.
On Saturday, agents trailed Merecdes and Francisco to Montville, New Jersey. There, the alleged drug mavens spent about an hour in an industrial lot before heading back to the city. The next day, agents pulled over Mercedes for questioning and found a brown substance in his car. They separately pulled over Francisco and found 70 kilos labelled "Rolex" in a compartment of his SUV, as well as $24,000 cash.
Later, agents searched an apartment in the exclusive Bronx neighborhood of Fieldston. The feds found the base of operations abutting a park and close to the Ivy League prep school Horace Mann. Down a tree-lined street, inside a brick building and underneath some floorboards, agents discovered $2 million in cash.
Both Mercedes, who is 46, and Francisco, who is 19, have been charged with operating as a major trafficker, along with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree. They face a maximum penalty of life in prison, and are being held without bail.
Much has been made over the past few years about a so-called heroin epidemic, especially in the Northeastern US, and the fact that the drug has been seeping into the suburbs. A lot of that can be attributed to a recent national crackdown on prescription drugs, which often leads people to seek out heroin as a substitute. In June 2012, the New York Legislature passed a bill implementing the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing—a database that quickly curbed painkiller abuse.
But addicts needed something to fill the void. In 2013, heroin use reached a ten-year high. Abuse reached such a fever pitch that in May of last year, New York City cops started carrying an antidote for the drug. Now, state police say that last weekend's raid—the biggest ever in New York state history—will cut off a major pipeline that feeds much of the Northeast.
"This case will have a significant impact on the drug trade in New York State and throughout the Northeast, by keeping this large load of heroin out of our communities," New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said in a statement. "We continue to send a clear message to those dealing these dangerous and deadly drugs—you will be found, you will be prosecuted and you will go to prison."
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.