Three dozen police officers from city, county, state and federal agencies swept across Niagara County in predawn raids Wednesday, arresting 46 people and breaking up what they called a multimillion-dollar cocaine ring.
"This is a phenomenal pickup rate," Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John R. Chella said. "We attacked a mid- to upper-level operation and put a major dent in the drug traffic in Niagara Falls."
The center of the cocaine ring was Mister Sepe's Pizza, a well-known pizza parlor at 2107 Main St., said Detective Lt. Salvatore Pino of the city's Narcotics and Intelligence Division.
"We've been watching the pizza parlor around the clock, and we infiltrated the ring with informants and surveillance," Pino said.
During the course of the investigation, police recovered about 36 ounces of cocaine, with a street value of up to $100,000, but the drug ring was part of a multimillion-dollar operation, authorities said.
Niagara Falls police said they began the investigation in September 2003 after receiving complaints over the department's anonymous tip line.
"This investigation owes itself to the residents and block club members who had the courage to take back their neighborhoods," said Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello. "This is not the end of it, but we're sending out a message today that we don't need this in the City of Niagara Falls."
Two brothers who owned the pizza parlor until last month, 32-year-old Christopher and Russell Sepe, 36, both of Niagara Falls, were among those arrested. They were charged with third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony punishable upon conviction of up to 25 years in prison.
The new owner, Rafait Alsaid, said he was dismayed to learn of the arrests Wednesday because he bought the pizzeria Oct. 1 after moving from North Carolina and had no idea about drug activity there.
Three of the drug ring leaders -- John Pietrangelo, 40, of Niagara Falls, Ont.; Christopher Cawley of Lewiston; and Tyrone "Dwayne" Rowe, 36, of Niagara Falls -- face life in prison if convicted on charges against them, said a spokesman for State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Pietrangelo, who listed his occupation as entrepreneur, was arrested crossing the Rainbow Bridge, police said.
Cawley and Pietrangelo are charged as the primary suppliers to the ring.
"Many of these names are quite familiar to me," said Chella, who spent 22 years in the Narcotics Division before being named superintendent in January. The case is being prosecuted by State Assistant Deputy Attorney General Patricia Carrington of the Organized Crime Task Force.
The pizza parlor was the point of sale and distribution for cocaine, which was transported to Western New York from New York City and Canada, and was later sold in Niagara County, police said.
Also among those charged in the indictment are Christopher Scrivano, 41; Joseph Magliazzo, 25; and Christopher Diehl, 47, all of Niagara Falls and all charged with felony possession of a controlled substance; and 38 people charged with felony drug conspiracy.