Twenty-eight Charged In Western New York Heroin And Cocaine Ring

Attorney General Spitzer and State Police Superintendent Wayne E. Bennett, today announced the unsealing of eight indictments returned by Erie County grand juries, charging 26 people with participating in a large-scale heroin and cocaine trafficking operation. Additionally, two other people were arrested after being charged in two separate but related felony complaints.

The arrests stem from an joint investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the New York State Police. The 18-month investigation began with a probe into the sales of heroin and cocaine on Buffalo's West Side and Riverside sections which have been plagued by drug trafficking.

In May 2005, the Attorney General's office received an anonymous letter from a group of concerned citizens living in the Riverside area complaining about rampant drug dealing which was occurring in that section of the city. Subsequent investigation, including the use of court-authorized wiretaps and undercover work by the OCTF led to today's arrests.

In the largest indictment, it is alleged that since November 2004, 19 defendants collectively possessed and sold heroin and cocaine in Erie, Niagara and Orleans counties. The various charges against these individuals include Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree, a class "A" felony; Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance; all are class "B" felonies.

Charged in the indictment are:

Heriberto "Eddie" Rodriguez, 31; Maria "Milly" Perez, 30; Luis "Wichie" Montanez, 27; Emmanuel "Manny" Santos, 23; Omar Montanez, 24; Andres "Papito" Gilbert, 20; Jesus Verdejo, 22; Luis "Piloto" Luna, 18; Jose "Flaco" Vega, 41; Raymond Torres, 35; Joann Bedell-Torres, 46; Ruben Miranda, 29; Lorrie Main, 38; Patrick Szczygiel, 36; all of Buffalo.

Also charged are: Lisa Callara, 34, of Medina; Ryan Smith, 25, of Niagara Falls; Dave Uebelhoer, 35, of Cheektowaga; and Billy Vazquez, 21, of Rochester.

The indictment charges Vazquez, with supplying heroin to Heriberto Rodriquez who along with Maria Perez , Jesus Verdejo and Luis Luna would store, cut, package and sell the drugs from a residence and garage in Riverside and another residence in South Buffalo. During the course of the investigation, police recovered over one kilogram of heroin with an estimated street value of $250,000; and over 60 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of $6,500.

If convicted of the most serious charges, Billy Vazquez could face 20 years in state prison; all other defendants could face up to nine years in state prison.

The other seven indictments allege conduct occurring between August 2005, and December, 2005. The arrested defendants in those cases are:

Fernando"Guayo" Mercado, 28; Jose "Josian" Gautier, 26; Carmen Vazquez, 27;
Miguel A. Castillo, 26; and Ruben "Peco" Rivera, 30, all of Buffalo, they are alleged to have sold heroin and cocaine to an undercover police officer at various locations throughout Erie County and face charges of Criminal Sale and Possession of a Controlled Substance.

A Grand Jury also indicted Mercado for Endangering the Welfare of a Child, a class "A" misdemeanor, for allegedly possessing and selling cocaine to an undercover officer in front of a child. Each defendant faces up to nine years in state prison.

Frank Guzzo, 36, of Grand Island, was also arrested. He was charged in a felony complaint with Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, a class "A" felony. Guzzo could face ten years in state prison.

Richard G. Chudzik, 49, of Lake View, was also arrested and charged in a felony complaint with Conspiracy in the Second Degree. Chudzik could face nine years in state prison.

The defendants were arraigned today before Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. Di Tullio.

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

Attorney General Spitzer praised the cooperation of the various law enforcement agencies and said:
"I promise to continue fighting the pernicious influence cocaine and heroin activity is having in neighborhoods and communities across New York State. Working with state and local law enforcement my office will sustain the pressure. Today we have removed more than two dozen brazen dealers from Buffalo's streets."

Since 1999, the OCTF launched an initiative which has targeted curtailing drug activity in upstate communities. Thus far, the effort has removed 1,360 kilograms of cocaine, 670 pounds of marijuana, 42 kilograms of heroin, and 450 firearms from the street. In addition, more than 725 alleged drug dealers have been charged with felonies.

New York State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said: "Today, the combined efforts of Federal, state, and local law enforcement have delivered a significant blow to the heroin and cocaine trade in Western New York. This case demonstrates the important role the public plays in being the eyes and ears to help law enforcement target criminals. These indictments send a strong message to dealers throughout the region that the citizens of New York State will not tolerate drugs in their communities."

Officers from the Erie County Sheriff's Department, the Buffalo Police Department, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement also assisted in the investigation and this mornings arrests.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Attorney General Robert J. Lee of the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force, Buffalo Office, under the direction of Christopher Prather, the Deputy Attorney General in charge of the Task Force. The investigation was led by Senior Investigator Michael R. McParlane of the Organized Crime Task Force, under the direction of Supervising OCTF Investigator Peter J. Talty.

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