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Police say bust will sharply reduce drugs on the street

The fentanyl-laced heroin arrived by car from New York City and Philadelphia.

The cocaine came in the mail from Puerto Rico, sometimes hidden in kidney bean cans and birthday presents.

The drugs then wound up on the streets of Buffalo and Lockport.

On Thursday, the State Police and other law enforcement agencies announced the drug-trafficking operation had been dismantled.

Twenty co-defendants – most of them from Buffalo and Western New York – were arraigned on sealed indictments in Erie County Court for taking part in the drug-smuggling ring. Five others were being sought.

The arrests come at a time when Western New York has seen opioid deaths reach record highs.

“This was a major roundup today,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. “You’re going to see a lot less drugs in the city for a short time until they do find alternative sources, but right now I believe it will have an immediate impact on reducing the 10 deaths a week in Erie County related to opiates. I believe this will have a major, major impact.”

Investigators from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Buffalo Police Department, State Police, the state Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and other law enforcement agencies used numerous hours of surveillance, phone intercepts and undercover buys to develop their case in what was dubbed Operation Rolling Thunder.

Reading from a high stack of papers Thursday in Erie County Court, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Patricia I. Carrington presented the charges as the defendants leaned toward courtroom interpreters to listen to the proceedings. All the defendants were indicted on felony charges, with most charged with criminal sale or possession of a controlled substance. No weapons charges were included in the indictments.

Search warrants were executed in three locations in Buffalo on Thursday.

When there are so many arrested, as one defense lawyer put it, they “range from whales to minnows,” as he made the case for bail for his client, who was charged for a single instance of drug transport and possession. A number of those appearing before Judge Kenneth F. Case had no prior criminal records. However, Case remanded all without bail until they can meet with their attorneys and have their cases assigned to a judge.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico noted how fentanyl is much stronger and cheaper than heroin, and is often used by dealers to make more money on the drugs they sell despite the dangerous consequences for users.

“Although we’re not connecting any overdose deaths to these drugs or this crew at this time, imagine if these drugs had made it out to our streets and what the potential deadly impact could have had on our community,” D’Amico said.

“Fentanyl is very potent, very deadly. People don’t know they have it in the heroin they’re using, and it’s responsible for overdose deaths all across the country.”

Mayor Byron W. Brown applauded the joint efforts of law enforcement in taking a significant amount of drugs off the street as well as potentially key dealers and others in the distribution chain.

“The arrests represent excellent and collaborative police work on the part of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies,” the mayor said.

Those charged are: Zoraida Acevedo Santiago; Jonathan Aleman Gonzalez; Bonifacio Barreto; Joemar Cruz; Jorge Da Vila; Joan Diaz; Josue Diaz Rodriguez and Justo Kelvin Estevez Rodriguez.

Also arraigned were Jonathan Lopez; Raul Lopez Sanchez; Jose Maldonado; Hiram Morales; Jose Nunez Perez; William Ortega; and David Ortiz.

And, Carolo Pizarro Rodriguez; Jonathan Ramos Ramos; Shalynette Rosario; Hector L. Santiago; Jesus Javier Santiago; Alexis Serrano Alicea; Omar Vellon Aponte, Charles Vogel and Brian D. Zimmerman.

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