A four-month police undercover operation resulted today in the arrest of 16 people accused of cocaine dealing, most of whom made their sales on Genesee, Moselle and East Ferry streets, police said.
More arrests were expected.
Shortly after 7 a.m. about 70 state and Buffalo police officers began the arrests, transporting suspects to the Masten Avenue National Guard Armory where authorities fingerprinted and photographed the suspects who were described as street to mid-level dealers, police said.
The 16 suspects were under arrest by 9 a.m. Authorities said at least 10 more arrests were expected, with the possibility of more than 40 persons being charged.
The operation began in January when state police undercover officers began making cocaine buys on city streets, said Capt. Edward Kelly, who is in charge of the State Police Bureau of Investigations for the eight Western New York counties. Kelly said state police officers were chosen to go undercover because they are not known to local dealers.
"All the sales for the most part were on the street corners of residential neighborhoods," Kelly said. "They were primarily on streets on the East side."
After collecting information on suspects, law enforcement authorities obtained sealed indictments from an Erie County grand jury. Twelve suspects were then arrested from Jan. 18 through Monday.
Those arrested today, who are mostly young men, were charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, a felony. Once at the armory, they sat handcuffed in the corner of a large room, guarded by police. They were scheduled to be arraigned later today before County Judge Michael D'Amico. The operation also netted a small amount of cocaine from two suspects and $1,700 in cash from another, Kelly said.
Arrests would be continuing in the coming weeks, but today's mass arrests would be the most on any one day, he said.
"Primarily, now the investigative end of it is over," he said. "The rest is presenting evidence in court and arresting the people we have warrants for."
Authorities said they were pleased by the results of the operation, code named SPin City for state police and city police.
"I think it was good in the respect that there were no injuries on either side," said Patrick O'Reilly, a state police spokesman.
Despite the size of today's operation, law enforcement officials said the impact of the arrests on the drug trade would be temporary.
"It always has an immediate effect. What everyone would like to have is a lasting effect." he said. "It would be unrealistic to say they won't be selling drugs in that same area this afternoon."
"They're off the street for the day at least," said Buffalo Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart. "I think if the courts would put a higher bail on these individuals" they would be off the streets longer.
"When you're dealing with this business, it's hard to say what impact it will have," O'Reilly said. "It's a never-ending problem." Although 16 defendants were brought to court this morning, only one, Cynthia Johnson, 22, of 227 Walden Ave., was arraigned by D'Amico.
Miss Johnson was ordered held in jail in lieu of $5,000 bail after she pleaded innocent to two counts of cocaine sale and two counts of cocaine possession.
D'Amico ordered the remaining defendants to remain in custody without bail until their lawyers can come to court later today or tomorrow.