Attorney General James Announces Takedown of Heroin and Cocaine Trafficking Ring in the Hudson Valley
12 Individuals Indicted for Roles in Flooding Communities with Cocaine, Heroin, and Methamphetamine, and Illegal Possession of Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines
Latest Action in AG James’ Efforts to Combat Opioid Crisis and Keep Streets Clean from Dangerous Drugs and Guns
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the takedown of a drug trafficking operation that flooded communities in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region with significant amounts of cocaine, heroin pills, methamphetamine pills, and artificial Xanax pills. As alleged in two indictments — unsealed in Ulster County Court today — 12 individuals trafficked more than one million dollars’ worth of cocaine and thousands of pills throughout Ulster, Dutchess, and Saratoga counties, and illegally possessed firearms, including assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines.
The investigation led to the recovery of:
- 11 kilograms of cocaine, with an approximate street value of $1.2 million;
- 15,000 methamphetamine pills, disguised as Adderall pills, with an approximate street value of $100,000;
- 5,000 artificial Xanax pills, with an approximate street value of $50,000;
- 750 heroin pills, disguised as oxycodone, with an approximate street value of $20,000;
- 39 firearms, including four assault weapons;
- 40 high-capacity magazines;
- Hundreds of rounds of ammunition; and,
- $120,000 in cash.
“As communities across New York and the country are devastated by opioids and gun violence every day, we are taking serious action to crack down on those who fuel this harm,” said Attorney General James. “Any drug operation that floods our streets with heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine endangers New Yorkers. But this operation was especially dangerous because they sold drugs that were intentionally disguised as prescription pills and were heavily armed with assault weapons and other firearms. Stopping gun violence and the opioid crisis requires action from every angle, and today’s takedown is the latest example of our commitment to using every tool possible to protect our communities. I thank our partners in law enforcement for their invaluable support in this investigation.”
Today’s takedown was the result of an 11-month joint-investigation led by the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), and the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT), with support from the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, the Dutchess County Drug Task Force, the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office, and the New York State Police Special Investigations Unit.
The investigation — dubbed “Operation GTL” due to guns, trafficking of narcotics, and laundering of proceeds which the investigation revealed — included hundreds of hours of physical and covert surveillance, court-authorized wiretapping of cellular telephones, and review of phone records and law enforcement databases.
During electronic surveillance, the defendants and their co-conspirators frequently utilized coded and cryptic terminology in an attempt to disguise their illicit activities, such as referring to cocaine as “girl,” “lady,” or “white”; heroin pills as “blues,” “blueberries,” or “berries”; methamphetamine pills as “peaches” or “oranges”; and artificial Xanax pills as “greens,” “green beans,” or “beans.”
As outlined in the first indictment, 11 defendants were charged for their roles in two conspiracies — one in which the defendants sold and possessed illegal pills disguised as pharmaceutical grade drugs and the other in which the defendants sold and possessed cocaine.
As alleged in the first conspiracy, Christopher Pulichene operated an illegal pill distribution network in and around Ulster, Dutchess, and Saratoga counties, and elsewhere. Pulichene purchased heroin pills from Alton Countryman, who was supported by his wife, Thekla Countryman, and Joshua Guldy. Alton Countryman created the heroin pills in his home in Kingston and disguised them to look like pharmaceutical grade oxycodone pills. The heroin pills were blue, round, and included the imprint “A 215,” which is found on pharmaceutical grade oxycodone pills. Pulichene then sold those heroin pills to defendants Thomas Colon, Julia Eaton, and Zachary Vanvlack.
Pulichene also purchased methamphetamine pills disguised as pharmaceutical grade Adderall pills from a source on the West Coast. Similar to the heroin pills, the methamphetamine pills included the same characteristics as Adderall — the pills were orange, oval-shaped, and included the imprint “B 974,” which is found on pharmaceutical grade Adderall pills. Pulichene then sold those methamphetamine pills to defendants Colon, Eaton, Vanvlack, and Devyn Wolny. Colon then sold the pills to Ralph Banks, Jr., and others.
In the second conspiracy, Pulichene operated an illegal cocaine distribution network. He obtained cocaine from a source in the Gulf Coast and then sold the cocaine to Colon, Eaton, and Wolny for resale to others. Colon resold the cocaine to Banks, Kevin Drake, Jr., and Nicholas Lasusa.
In addition to the large quantities of drugs that were recovered, investigators seized 39 firearms, including assault weapons, 40 high-capacity magazines, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, riot gear, and other weapons.
This indictment contains 275 counts for various felony narcotics offenses, including a charge against Pulichene for Operating as a Major Trafficker, which carries a maximum sentence of life in state prison, and various counts of Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (class A and B felonies), as well as Conspiracy to commit those crimes. Additionally, Pulichene, Alton Countryman, Banks, and Colon are charged with firearms offenses for some of the firearms that were seized.
In the second Indictment, Robert Curry is charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree, a class A-I felony, and 3 counts associated with the possession of cocaine which occurred within the city of Kingston in Ulster County.
Those charged in today’s two indictments include:
CHRISTOPHER PULICHENE, 39 years old, of New Paltz, New York
RALPH BANKS, JR., 50 years old, of Saugerties, New York
THOMAS COLON, 60 years old, of Saugerties, New York
ALTON COUNTRYMAN, 35 years old, of Kingston, New York
THEKLA COUNTRYMAN, 35 years old, of Kingston, New York
ROBERT CURRY, 42 years old, of Albany, New York
KEVIN DRAKE, JR., 32 years old, of Kingston, New York
JULIA EATON, 34 years old, of Gansevoort, New York
JOSHUA GULDY, 21 years old, of Kingston, New York
NICHOLAS LASUSA, 31 years old, of Saugerties, New York
ZACHARY VANVLACK, 34 years old, of Wappingers Falls, New York
DEVYN WOLNY, 24 years old, of New Paltz, New York
“Ulster County has witnessed an increase in drug use, drug overdoses, and gun violence,” said Ulster County Sheriff Juan J. Figueroa. “This case establishes the need of local law enforcement to collaborate with state agencies that have the assets and expertise of long-term investigations. The URGENT Task Force, the New York Attorney General’s Office, and the Organized Crime Task Force joined forces to take down drug traffickers and remove drugs and weapons off the streets. This case is the largest seizure of illicit drugs in the county’s history. I congratulate the participating agencies of the URGENT Task Force, the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, and the New York State Police for a job well done in protecting the residents of the Hudson Valley.”
“This investigation highlights the importance of ongoing collaboration between law enforcement agencies and using all available resources to hold offenders accountable,” said Dutchess County Sheriff Kirk Imperati. “I want to thank all of the law enforcement partners for their hard work and dedication regarding this investigation to protect Dutchess County communities.”
“I would like to thank our State Police Special Investigations Unit members, the Office of the Attorney General, and our law enforcement partners for their devotion and perseverance in this investigation,” said New York State Police Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen. “These indictments are a direct result of a collective effort that has interrupted the distribution of narcotics and weapons in our neighborhoods and has taken dangerous individuals off our streets. State Police and our partners will continue to keep our communities safe from such criminals and the harmful circumstances they create.”
“This is one of the largest drug and gun takedowns in the history of Ulster County,” said Ulster County District Attorney David J. Clegg. “The trafficking of illegal narcotic drugs and the possession of deadly firearms will not be tolerated in our county. We will continue to work jointly with the New York Attorney General’s Office Organized Crime Taskforce to hold these twelve individuals accountable to the fullest extent of the law for the illegal sale and distribution of narcotics, and possession of illegal firearms. We will continue to work tirelessly to take dangerous drugs and firearms off the streets and keep our community safe.”
“This is a major victory in our efforts to stem the flow of guns, gangs, and drugs into our community; and will deliver a devastating blow to those who have been fomenting violence in our streets,” said Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan. “I commend and thank Attorney General Letitia James, the Organized Crime Task Force, Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, the brave members of our Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (U.R.G.E.N.T.) team, and everyone involved with this historic operation. As county executive, I have made it a top priority to bolster support to our law enforcement agencies, delivering over 20 percent in additional funding and staff to our U.R.G.E.N.T. team since taking office. We will not rest until every single violent criminal bringing these drugs and guns into our community is brought to justice.”
“Getting these drugs and weapons off the street and these heinous individuals behind bars is a tremendous step towards victory in our ongoing fight against opioids and gun violence,” said Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. “We are grateful to the brave men and women of law enforcement for their continued commitment to cracking down on drug and gun trafficking, especially our own Dutchess County Drug Task Force and the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office, and to Attorney General Letitia James for her efforts to prosecute the individuals who perpetrate these crimes. We will continue to stand together against those who would harm our community for their own gain.”
Today’s takedown marks the latest major drug bust in OAG’s Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic (SURGE) Initiative, a law enforcement effort that brings together state and local law enforcement to target New York’s growing — and often violent — heroin, opioid, and narcotics trafficking networks. Since launching in 2017, SURGE has taken 738 alleged traffickers off the streets.
The charges against the defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The investigation was led by URGENT Investigator Joseph Stock, under the supervision of URGENT Detective Sergeant Jason Bruck, URGENT Detective Lieutenant Abram Markiewicz, URGENT Commander Jarrid Blades, and OAG OCTF Detective David Walsh, under the supervision of Detective Supervisor Bradford Miller and Acting Assistant Chief Andy Boss. The OAG’s Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes.
In addition to the law enforcement partners listed above, Attorney General James would also like to thank the Dutchess County Drug Task Force, which is led by Coordinator Detective Sergeant Adam Harris, the New York State Police Special Investigations Unit, and the Homeland Security Investigations-Hudson Valley Office for their assistance throughout the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by OAG OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Griffin C. Kenyon, with the assistance of Special Assistant Deputy Attorney General Shanza Malik and Special Assistant Deputy Attorney General John L. Mason of the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, and OCTF Legal Support Analyst Santiago Molina. ADAG Kenyon is under the supervision of Downstate OCTF Deputy Chief Lauren Abinanti. Nicole Keary is the Deputy Attorney General in Charge of OCTF. The Division for Criminal Justice is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.