“This was easily a $1 million a year illegal business that extended through all five boroughs,”
Starting in November 2015, police began targeting the high-level distributors and utilized surveillance and wiretaps to build their case.
According to Gonzalez, 47-year-old Jerome Horton and 43-year-old Willie Billingslea, both of East New York, were allegedly supplied by Nigel Maloney, a 49-year-old Phoenix man.
Maloney is accused of sending heroin and cocaine in the mail to Warren Appolon, a 46-year-old Jamaica resident, who would then give the drugs to Horton and Billingslea.
The supply wasn’t enough to meet, however, so they also utilized other suppliers, including Joseph Raffone of Ridgewood and Kristian Cruz of East New York man, for the fentanyl
The fentanyl is believed to have been purchased from China on an encrypted deep web marketplace.
A third man, 43-year-old Jackie Hilliard of Ronkonkoma, is accused of supplying additional cocaine.
Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said as many as 31 those arrested are members of the Bloods street gang.
“Now we have a fusion here of heroin selling and Blood gang members,” Boyce said. “It’s very scary and something we’re very concerned about.”
The major bust comes at a time when there’s a national discussion about the opioid crisis. In the past year, the NYPD has reported 1,350 overdose-related deaths. That’s approximately triple the number of homicides.
But fentanyl poses a different threat, both because of how fatal it is and because of its murky legal status.
“This type of designer opiate presents additional challenges for us,” Gonzalez said. “These synthetics are lethal, they are cheap and they continue to flow into our streets.”
In some cases, police are reporting that the fentanyl and heroin cocktails have a purity level as high as 60 percent. In the past, a $10 glassine of heroin was only about 10 percent pure. The fentanyl can cost as little as $7.
In this particular case, this particular brand of fentanyl had never before been seen in New York City. While fentanyl was added to the federal list of controlled substances last year, states have been slow to catch up.
“When the lawmakers are establishing criteria of the chemicals that are illegal, [chemists] do workarounds so that the chemistry now doesn’t fit it,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve seen that with the synthetic marijuana problem. We just need to have more expansive laws that will erase that by asking that the underlying drug be illegal and these sort of synthetic analogues are also illegal.”
Gonzalez is also looking to address the underlying problems that lead to heroin addiction by allowing people arrested for drug possession to get a chance to enter rehab before they are arraigned in court. If they participate meaningfully, their cases will not move forward.
“In order to really solve this problem, we need to not only arrest and prosecute the drug dealers, but we have to find a better way to treat addiction,” Gonzalez said.