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Post date: December 18 2018

A.G. Underwood Announces Takedown Of 12-Person Hudson Valley Narcotics Distribution Ring In “Operation Candy Crush”

News from the New York Attorney General's Office 


December 18, 2018

Attorney General's Office Press Office / 212-416-8060


Joint Investigation by AG’s Organized Crime Task Force and New York State Police Leads to 110-Count Indictment Charging 12 Defendants with Conspiring to Purchase and Sell Thousands of Dangerous Prescription Pills to Dozens of Individuals  

If Convicted, Each Defendant Faces a Maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 Years in Prison 

“Operation Candy Crush” is Latest in AG’s SURGE Initiative to Crack Down on Opioid Traffickers in Suburban and Upstate New York; To Date, 357 Alleged Traffickers Taken Off Street Through SURGE 

HUDSON VALLEY – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced a 110–count indictment charging 12 members of a large narcotics trafficking ring – operating in Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster Counties – with selling thousands of prescription pills including oxycodone, amphetamine, diazepam, clonazepam, and buprenorphine to dozens of customers on a daily basis. The indictment, unsealed in Dutchess County Court today, charges the 12 alleged co-conspirators with Conspiracy, Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, in addition to other charges. The defendants were arraigned today before Judge Edward McLoughlin in Dutchess County Court. If convicted, each defendant could face 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

“As we allege, this narcotics trafficking ring sold thousands of prescription pills to dozens of individuals,” said Attorney General Underwood. “My office is committed to continuing our multi-levered approach to tackling New York’s opioid epidemic – including working with our partners in law enforcement to stop the flow of these dangerous drugs into our communities and drive traffickers out of business.”

Today’s takedown – dubbed “Operation Candy Crush” due to the defendants’ reference to prescription pills as “candy” and “skittles” – marks the latest in the Attorney General’s SURGE Initiative (Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic) to root out New York’s growing – and often violent – heroin, opioid, and narcotics trafficking networks. Since launching in 2017, SURGE has taken 357 alleged traffickers off the streets. Led by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), and in partnership with New York State Police, authorities seized hundreds of oxycodone pills of varying dosages over the course of the nine-month investigation.

New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “As a result of interagency coordination and commitment among our law enforcement partners, a major drug trafficking operation has been shut down and numerous criminals have been removed from our streets. These drugs perpetuate a cycle of addiction and criminal behavior which in turn threatens the safety and security of our neighborhoods. I want to thank our members and law enforcement partners for their tenacious dedication to tracking illegal drugs and intercepting them at their source before they can be distributed on our streets.”

The Attorney General’s investigation included hundreds of hours of physical and covert surveillance, court-authorized wiretapping of numerous target phones, the review of subpoena compliance, and undercover “controlled buy” operations. During the course of the wiretapping, conspirators frequently utilized coded and cryptic terminology in an attempt to disguise their illicit narcotics trafficking, such as referring to prescription pills as “candy” or “skittles.” The conspirators would also refer to specific dosages of oxycodone pills by the shape and color of the oxycodone pills. For example, 30 milligram oxycodone pills were referred to as “blueberries,” “blueberry pie,” or “blues”; 15 milligram oxycodone pills were referred to as “green apples” or “greens”; and 10 milligram oxycodone pills as “bananas” or “yellows.”

As alleged in the indictment, several members of the criminal network focused their operation on the purchase and resale of prescription pills, including oxycodone, amphetamine (Adderall), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and buprenorphine (Suboxone). The investigation uncovered that several of the conspirators allegedly obtained prescription pills through legitimate prescriptions and then sold their entire prescription for hundreds or thousands of dollars. The investigation further uncovered that defendant Kimberly Bevan allegedly obtained large quantities of oxycodone pills from Arthur Volgarino and others, and then supplied those oxycodone pills to Mark Thomas for resale to other individuals throughout Dutchess County. Mark Thomas also allegedly purchased prescription pills – such as oxycodone, diazepam, and clonazepam – from other individuals, including John Loverro, and ultimately re-sold those pills to other individuals for further distribution. Similarly, the investigation revealed that Samantha Vantassell allegedly bought prescription pills – such as oxycodone, amphetamine, and buprenorphine – from other co-conspirators including James Davis, Timothy Cherry, Michael Rhodes, Nicole Vantassell, and Savanna Sherow. Samantha Vantassell then allegedly supplied those prescription pills to her customers, including Trish Sucato, for further redistribution. 

The indictment, unsealed today before Dutchess County Court Judge McLoughlin, charged the following 12 individuals with crimes including Conspiracy in the Second Degree and Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (Class A and B felonies), among other charges:

KIMBERLY BEVAN, 33 years old – Poughkeepsie, New York

TIMOTHY CHERRY, 54 years old – Newburgh, New York

JAMES LEE DAVIS, a/k/a “Jim-Bob,” 59 years old – Newburgh, New York

MICHAEL DUBOIS, a/k/a “Michael Brandon,” 39 years old – Newburgh, New York

JOHN LOVERRO, a/k/a “Johnny Boy,” 54 years old – Poughkeepsie, New York

MICHAEL RHODES, 40 years old – Poughkeepsie, New York

SAVANNA SHEROW, 19 years old – Hyde Park, New York

TRISHA SUCATO, 49 years old – Highland, New York

MARK THOMAS, a/k/a “Uncle Mark,” 56 years old – Poughkeepsie, New York

NICOLE VANTASSELL, 42 years old – Poughkeepsie, New York

SAMANTHA VANTASSELL, 35 years old – Poughkeepsie, New York

ARTHUR J. VOLGARINO JR., 59 years old – Hopewell Junction, New York

In a separate indictment unsealed today, Samantha Vantassell is charged with creating a fictitious Instagram account under another individual’s name to disseminate a post threatening a school shooting at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, New York. Vantassell was charged with Making a Terrorist Threat and Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree for posting a photo of an individual holding what appeared to be an assault rifle with the caption, “going through a lot right now can’t go to school I’m feeling like shooting roosevelt school up.” If convicted on this separate indictment, Vantassell faces up to 7 years in prison.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The Attorney General would like to thank the U.S. Army National Guard Counterdrug Task Force for their assistance in this investigation. The charges in the indictment are the result of a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the New York State Police. 

The investigation was directed by OCTF Investigators Ryan Fannon and Naomi Jimenez, under the supervision of OCTF Supervising Investigator Paul Grzegorski and Downstate OCTF Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta. The Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau is led by Acting Chief Investigator John Reidy.

The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Shanon N. LaCorte, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Diego Hernandez. Nicole Keary is the Deputy Attorney General in Charge of the Organized Crime Task Force.

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