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FUGITIVE LINKED TO DRUG NETWORK HELD IN ARIZONA MAN ACCUSED OF RUNNING RING AT AREA SKI RESORTS

The suspected mastermind of a multimillion-dollar cocaine network that once operated in Buffalo and area ski resorts has been arrested in Tucson, Ariz., after a 4 1/2 -year search, the state Organized Crime Task Force said today.

Richard W. Gaspar, 39, a fugitive since November 1984, was in custody at the Pima County Jail in Tucson, according to initial police teletype reports received here, task force prosecutor Karl F. Keuker said.

Gaspar was arrested Thursday on an Erie County grand jury indictment warrant issued early in 1985, according to Keuker.

Keuker, the chief prosecutor in the investigation called Operation Snowflake, said Tucson authorities have confirmed that the man they arrested is Gaspar, but he is awaiting further documentation. Meanwhile, efforts are under way to expedite the suspect as quickly as possible, Keuker said.

Under a multicount indictment handed up in early 1985, Gaspar could face a prison term of up to 25 years to life if convicted.

Gaspar, who had residences in Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda, fled after taking at least $400,000 from bank strong boxes when state police began arresting suspects in Operation Snowflake in November 1984, authorities said.

Authorities seized almost $1.4 million in cash and $250,000 worth of cocaine from confederates during a series of raids in 1984.

Described by law enforcement sources as a "low-key guy" who outwardly lived modestly but would order $100 take-out suppers from Buffalo area restaurants, Gasper is identified in prosecution documents as the ringleader of the highly sophisticated cocaine distribution network credited with at least $5 million in sales here.

Because of a time differential between Buffalo and Tucson, authorities here won't know until late today whether Gaspar is prepared to fight extradition or will voluntarily return to face trial, Keuker said.

Seven key associates and primary drug buyers are serving prison terms of three to four years to life on guilty pleas they made last year after trying unsuccessfully to get the state's high court to quash their cases on procedural grounds.

The probe of the drug network began as a state police investigation of drug dealing in the ski resort country south of Buffalo.

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