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DRUG LOOT GOES TO COUNTY, STATE

A windfall of $1.36 million in drug loot will be split by Erie County and New York State from "Operation Snowflake," Western New York's most controversial drug bust.

Prosecutors from the state's Organized Crime Task Force also are trying to seize $8 million more from leaders of the cocaine ring, which began by dealing to well-heeled customers in the Southern Tier's ski country.

But at least one defense attorney in the case said his clients have no money and called efforts to seize additional funds from them "a total waste of taxpayers' money."

The $1.36 million, however, is cash in the bank and was ordered turned over to authori
ties last week by State Supreme Court Justice Joseph S. Forma. The money was seized from homes and safe deposit boxes during raids in 1984 and 1985.

Erie County District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon said he is "ecstatic" over the impending windfall.

"This is, far and away, the largest drug forfeiture the county has ever seen, by better than 1,000 percent over previous cases," Dillon said.

"Operation Snowflake" caused controversy when veteran state police investigators testified that a prosecutor seeking a search warrant withheld information from a judge.

Charges were thrown out but were later reinstated by the State Court of Appeals, which ruled there was still probable cause for the warrant.

Besides the cash seized in the raids, the Organized Crime Task Force also is trying to latch on to additional loot generated by the wholesale drug operations of longtime fugitive Richard W. Gaspar, his confederates and major customers.

Gaspar, 39, arrested Thursday in Tucson, Ariz., and awaiting extradition proceedings, already has been slapped with a $4 million secret judgment by the state crime agency.

And prosecutors are seeking almost $4 million in additional judgments against his associates, including a $55,000 claim for a "loan" Gaspar allegedly made to a local limousine service.

Under New York's criminal forfeiture laws, the state must spend its share of the $1.36 million on substance abuse services.

Erie County must spend its half for law enforcement purposes.

The timetable for the transfer of the loot into county and state coffers -- from a bank where it has been stored for over four years -- hasn't been worked out yet, Dillon and state officials said.

The money Forma allowed the state and county to share was given up last year by a half-dozen of Gaspar's associates and customers in return for pleas to reduced drug charges in the case.

The state still needed a court order to claim the money.

No additional money has been seized, but prosecutors want court orders allowing them to seize cash or property they trace to Gaspar or his confederates to satisfy additional judgments.

Karel F. Keuker, chief prosecutor in the "Snowflake" investigation, said his agency used drug records seized in the probe to calculate gross revenues handled by the ring from May 1982 through November 1984.

Gaspar and his confederates were foiled in a probe that began as a routine inquiry into drug dealing in the ski resorts south of Buffalo.

In addition to the $4 million judgment against Gaspar, the state crime agency has already obtained a $1.5 million judgment against imprisoned cocaine peddler Charles Didio, 42.

The agency is seeking similar judgments making Gaspar associates Gary Knowle, 39, and his wife, Paula Gutowski-Knowle, 37, also liable for the $4 million judgment and former Gaspar wholesale clients Vincent Ciffa, 49, and Carla Patti, 28, liable as well for the $1.5 million judgment obtained against Didio.

Ciffa, Ms. Patti and Didio worked together as clients of Gaspar.

The state agency also seeks a $2.2 million judgment against reputed Gaspar clients Edward Kloss, 42, and Paul H. Levin, 40, according to court papers. In addition, the state is seeking a $1.4 million judgment against the imprisoned Enzo Volpe, Ms. Patti's brother-in-law, identifying him as an independent customer of the Gaspar wholesale operation.

The Knowles, Volpe, Ciffa, and Ms. Patti all pleaded guilty last year and each got prison terms of three to four years to life. Kloss and Levin pleaded guilty in 1987 to drug conspiracy counts and served one-year jail terms, but they deny any complicity in the Gaspar drug operation.

Legal documents drafted by the state crime task force, however, identify Levin and Kloss as "regular customers" of Gaspar who and paid Gaspar more than $1 million for 536 ounces of cocaine in the early 1980s.

The state agency also lodged a $55,000 claim against Buffalo Limousine Service Inc., which is owned by Ms. Patti's family, for a loan Gaspar allegedly made to the business in the early 1980s to help finance a separate company, which was to modify luxury cars for limousine service. The company has denied any link to Gaspar.

John C. Murrett Jr., attorney for the Knowles, called the continuing court case "a total waste of taxpayer money" because the Knowles are impoverished.

In pleading guilty last year, the Knowles gave up claim to $924,747 seized during raids in November 1984 on the Clarence home they rented with Gaspar, and on three bank deposit boxes, Murrett said. Drug agents also seized $436,420 in a raid on Ciffa's Buffalo home.

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