A “multi-million dollar” cocaine-distribution ring, which allegedly ferried about four kilos of cocaine a week using hidden compartments in vehicles traveling from New York City to Riverhead, has been busted by the East End Drug Task Force, said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
The investigation, which began last November and lasted until June, revealed Robert Love, 58, of Riverhead and Miguel Matos, 45, of the Bronx were the “ringleaders” of the operation, one of the largest in East End history, officials said.
Mr. Matos’ son-in-law, Radames “Ray” Melendez, 22, also of the Bronx, allegedly served as the courier in the ring and ferried drugs from New York to Mr. Love in Riverhead before returning to New York City to be paid, according to authorities.
Mr. Melendez or Mr. Matos would meet Mr. Love in Riverhead or in western Suffolk County to transfer the drugs.
Mr. Love received about a kilo of cocaine, each worth about $37,000, every other day, officials said; he would then break the kilos into gram-sized chunks and sell them in Greenport, Riverhead, Flanders, and Southampton for $50 and $60 a gram.
“That amount of cocaine flowing into the East End of Suffolk County… is a tremendous amount,” Mr. Spota said, adding that he believes hundreds receives cocaine through the ring’s distribution.
Mr. Matos was a “major player” in the drug trafficking world, Mr. Spota said. When police executed the search warrant on Mr. Matos’ apartment, they found a sophisticated operation featuring security cameras – some disguised as smoke alarms – watching the packaging areas and hallways to ensure Mr. Matos’ accomplices didn’t steal drugs, officials said.
Detectives retrieved thousands in cash, drugs, and tools used to compress the cocaine into kilos for sale, Mr. Spota added.
East End Drugs Task Force detectives seized 13 cars and discovered hidden traps used to hide powdered cocaine in three of the vehicles, officials said.
The electronic traps were opened by pressing buttons in the cars, such as hazard light, air conditioning, or windshield wiper buttons in a specific sequence, Mr. Spota said.
The men were arrested on June 13 by Riverhead Town Police and held in custody awaiting a Grand Jury indictment, which was handed up on July 26, according to court records.
Mr. Love was arrested at his home in Riverhead, where he allegedly tried to flee police and threw a kilo of cocaine over a fence during the arrest.
In 2003, the Riverhead man was arrested for the sale and possession of cocaine, officials said. He was sentenced to 10 years in state prison, and was released in December 2009.
“He convinced the parole board that he had seen the light, that he was rehabilitated, and that light, as you can see … has quickly faded.”
Mr. Spota said Mr. Matos had no prior arrests, adding that a “significant amount” of money was being transferred to the Dominican Republic as part of the cocaine ring. The District Attorney said he was unsure specifically where Mr. Matos had gotten his drugs from.
Mr. Love and Mr. Matos are being charged under the state’s three-year-old “kingpin statute,” which carry heavier sentences for major distributors of illegal drugs.
The two men face charges of operating as a major trafficker as a profiteer from sale, operating as a major trafficker as a profiteer from possession, first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all class A1 felonies which carry top sentences of life imprisonment, and second-degree conspiracy, a class B felony.
Mr. Matos was additionally charged with operating as a major trafficker as director of a controlled substance operation, a class A1 felony.
Mr. Melendez is facing charges of first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and first-degree conspiracy.
The three men were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday, but the date was postponed when one of the defendants requested a new lawyer.
The East End Drug Task Force was formed in 1988 and uses undercover officers from surrounding town and village police departments, along with officers from the state, county, and sheriff departments, to investigate narcotics on the East End.
Mr. Spota thanked the local police departments, like Riverhead, Southampton and Southold, for lending officers to assist in the investigation.
“I’m very, very proud of the work this task force has done,” he said. “They have done an admirable job …. and I am very, very thankful to all of the departments who contribute manpower to the East End Drug Task Force.”
Mr. Spota added that he expects about “a dozen or more” arrests to be made in relation to the ring.