Four men who were the street-level faces of a large local heroin-dealing network each were sentenced in state court to a year in jail Monday morning.
They were arrested last August and October when investigators followed a trail that began with one user’s fatal overdose in Amherst in the spring. That victim’s family was able to provide information to Amherst Police that led officers and other drug task force members to a group of young men who were being used to deliver heroin to customers in downtown Buffalo and nearby suburbs.
According to the defendants’ attorneys, their clients were pawns in the region’s opiate epidemic, not kingpins.
“The court made it clear it took a very dim view of heroin dealing in Buffalo,” attorney Thomas J. Eoannou said before his client Yanuel Soto-Medina, 21, was sentenced. Soto-Medina, who pleaded guilty to four counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance, played only a “small part” in the drug network, Eoannou said.
Attorney Andrew C. LoTempio also told State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang that his client, Luis A. Medina, 27, was at the lowest end of the operation.
“None of these young men are the mastermind behind this,” LoTempio said.
Medina was sentenced to 11 one-year terms, to run concurrently, for pleading guilty to delivering individual packages of heroin to an undercover operative 11 times.
The judge granted youthful-offender status to two defendants, both now 18. They also received one-year sentences for pleading guilty to three counts each of criminal sale of a controlled substances.
Attorney Michael J. Stachowski said his client had been recruited to the operation only three months before his arrest, and Robert J. Cutting, who defended the other 18-year-old, added, “We realize the court is not at all pleased with this entire scenario, but he is not a major player by any stretch of the imagination.”
Wolfgang also accepted guilty pleas from two men in two unrelated drug cases.
Michael Codelia, 18, of East Amherst, pleaded guilty to selling Xanax, an anxiety drug, to undercover operatives at his home and on Niagara Falls Boulevard. The judge pointed out that Codelia already had been granted youthful-offender status in a previous case and would not get it this time.
She did, however, allow bail to continue until sentencing as long as Codelia stays out of trouble and warned him, “The Amherst police are not happy with you, they are aware of you and they are watching you.”
Marlon Swaggard, 27, of Buffalo, pleaded guilty to possession of more than 4 ounces of cocaine at a Jewett Avenue house when he was arrested in June and, as part of his plea, agreed to forfeit $100,000 also found in the house.