Nine Buffalo men associated with a national drug trafficking ring face state charges, according to the state attorney general.
So far six have been arrested. The nine are accused of dealing in cocaine, marijuana, black tar heroin and pills laced with fentanyl.
The investigation that led to the arrests, Operation Blue Death, is connected to a warning issued by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in September about the potentially lethal fentanyl pills. At that time, 500 pills manufactured to look like prescription oxycodone had been recovered, hidden in 31 pounds of marijuana shipped to a Buffalo address, he said.
The intercepted counterfeit pills were the first found in Western New York masquerading as prescription opioids, the attorney general said. They allegedly were sent from California, from defendant Pablo Zambrano, who has been arrested there and is awaiting extradition.
Schneiderman said the drugs were sent to addresses in Erie and Chautauqua counties. All told, investigators confiscated more than 500 fentanyl pills, 100 grams of black tar heroin, 130 grams of cocaine, 15 pounds of marijuana and one 9 mm pistol.
No deaths have been connected to the drugs locally but they have been suspected in deaths in other states, Schneiderman said.
The Attorney General's Office did not provide ages or more specific addresses of those arrested.
Carlos Martinez of Buffalo is charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the second degree, conspiracy in the second degree and 18 other counts associated with drug possession and sales. Martinez was being held on a parole detainer.
Also arraigned in state Supreme Court Thursday was Randy Gonzalez, who faces many of the same charges. Justice Paul Wojtazsek set his bail at $200,000.
Jonathan Ivan "Tati" Medina is charged with drug sale and possession in the second and third degrees, criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and conspiracy. He has no criminal history and bail was set at $150,000.
Jonathan Rosario is charged with drug possession in the second degree, drug sale and possession in the third degree and conspiracy, and had bail set at $125,000.
Fernando "Fendi" Maldonado is charged with conspiracy and criminal possession of a controlled substance. Maldonado has no prior criminal convictions. Wojtazsek set his bail at $50,000.
Roger Gonzalez has been arrested in North Carolina in connection with the case.
Three others who live locally also are charged in the indictment: Frank Perez, Angel Medina and Anthony Roman.
At his September news conference, Schneiderman said the fentanyl pills were discovered as part of a investigation by the state’s Organized Crime Task Force and that the pills were shipped from the West Coast, where several fatal overdoses had been attributed to similar counterfeit pills.
The investigation was a joint effort of local, state and federal law enforcement, including the State Police, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Postal Inspector, with the assistance of the Buffalo and Amherst police departments, the U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz praised the efforts at a press conference with the attorney general on Thursday, saying that is a good step in the fight against addiction.
"As of this morning there have been 173 confirmed overdose deaths in Erie County this year and 125 suspected," Poloncarz said. "We are looking at more than 300 for the year."