The drug dealer eagerly accepted the package he was expecting from a deliveryman who had rolled up outside his West Side home in a familiar UPS truck.
Moments later, when a team of federal agents arrived at the dealer’s Potomac Avenue doorstep, he picked up his gun in his second-floor apartment. He wasn’t going to give up the drugs without a fight.
Before agents who had shouted “Police!” could knock down the front door, they were coated with a red mist and their ears rang from a shotgun blast.
Dale M. Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge of the Buffalo regional office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, immediately ordered his entry team to pull back.
“I thought one of my agents had been shot. We were all covered in red, but when I took a roll call, everyone was accounted for and unharmed,” Kasprzyk recalled of the incident that occurred several years ago.
“It turned out the drug dealer’s gunshot hit a can of red spray paint on a shelf in the hallway leading up to his apartment.”
That’s just one of the close calls Kasprzyk encountered in one of many undercover drug busts in the last quarter-century.
But the just-retired chief of the DEA’s local office is likely to be best remembered for the public face he put on educating citizens to the dangers of prescription painkillers, a problem that has developed into an epidemic.
When the Buffalo native joined the DEA in the late 1980s, after working several years as a police officer in Reno, Nev., and then as a confidential investigator for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, crack cocaine was just starting to grip the country, and Buffalo was not spared.
By 1994, the number of homicides in the city had hit an all-time high of 94, with drug gangs warring to corner the market on the almost instantly addictive cocaine derivative.
“Crack destroyed the inner city. It affected the poor because of its availability and because it was cheap. I think back to those times and compare it to the opiates of today. The pendulum has swung from stimulants to depressants and painkillers,” said Kasprzyk, who spent his early years growing up on North Parade Avenue in the heart of the East Side before his parents moved to West Seneca.
“Now the drug problem is in the suburbs, as opposed to just the inner city,” he said of the painkillers, which start out legally prescribed and end up either stolen from a family’s medicine cabinet or sold to drug dealers by doctors’ patients looking to make quick money.
To battle the epidemic, Kasprzyk promoted DEA-sponsored prescription drug drop-off events and community activities. But efforts by him and many in the community, he said, have not been enough to avoid casualties. Many young people have died from overdoses; others have turned to more easily accessible and cheaper heroin after getting hooked on the pills, and the hearts of parents have been broken.
Kasprzyk says he has felt that pain on a personal level from loved ones and friends who have seen their children falling into addiction. And that is why he strenuously objects to the further easing of laws regulating marijuana.
Robin A. Clouden, executive director of Kids Escaping Drugs, says Kasprzyk served as “one of our loudest and most committed friends” in educating the community to the dangers of drugs and also shepherding financial resources to provide alternatives for young people.
“He is a passionate advocate for our mission. We were the recipient of asset-forfeiture dollars, a generous donation of $5,000 we used to purchase weight room equipment for our youth on our campus,” said Clouden, whose organization is located on the Renaissance Campus in West Seneca. “That man spent innumerable hours pushing for stronger laws to prevent addiction among our youth.”
One of the joys of his job, Kasprzyk said, was channeling money that once was profit for dealers to help fight drugs.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. described Kasprzyk as a rare blend of cop and advocate.
“Dale was the perfect combination of tenacious investigator and community-focused leader. He spent just as much time working to put criminals behind bars as he did trying to educate the public on emerging chemicals and narcotics that our area has seen in recent years,” Hochul said. “We had some of the largest seizures in the last three years of cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs than we’ve ever had before. He kept pounding away and engaged the community.”
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda pointed out that Kasprzyk was one of the key leaders among local law enforcement officials to promote new levels of cooperation in recent years.
“He was a great partner and he will be missed,” Derenda said. “The partnership has been built in a way that it is going to continue and we’ll continue our aggressive approach.”
But whether the scourge of drugs will ever be wiped out, Kasprzyk says, is hard to predict, though he is certain that progress can always be made.
“I don’t know if we will solve the drug problem, but we can continue to attack it,” said Kasprzyk, 54, who is now putting his decades of law enforcement knowledge to work against money laundering in a new unit at M&T Bank.
What he’d like best, he said, is to identify money that drug dealers try to hide in bank accounts. If that happens, he says, he will be continuing his life’s work to make the community a better place.