Operation Spanned New York and Arizona;
Approximately 10 Kilograms of Narcotics and 17 Guns Recovered
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, together with New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, today announced that 34 people have been variously charged in a 357-count indictment with criminal sale of a controlled substance, conspiracy and other crimes for their alleged roles in a narcotics trafficking operation that sold heroin and cocaine, both in Brooklyn and beyond. The case also involves alleged sales of furanyl fentanyl, a relatively new and potent opiate analog which is not yet classified as a controlled substance under New York State law.
Acting District Attorney Gonzalez said, “The indictment describes a sprawling narcotics ring that operated from Brooklyn across the city, the state and the country. Those who push these deadly poisons on our streets, concerned only with their own lucrative profits, devastate the communities where they operate and feed the disease of addiction, which ultimately touches all of us. Drug analogs, like the furanyl fentanyl in this case, highlight a dangerous gap in our narcotics laws that we will work to address with our partners in Albany.”
“These charges today mark the end of a far-reaching investigation into the illegal distribution of narcotics all over New York City,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. “NYPD investigators will keep working hard along with our state and federal law enforcement partners to send a strong message to gangs, drug traffickers and all those who prey on New Yorkers: This activity is not acceptable in any of our neighborhoods. And through precision policing, we will continue to target the criminals responsible for this behavior.”
The Acting District Attorney said that most of the defendants were arrested and arraigned this week and last week before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Foley on a 357-count indictment in which they are variously charged with first-, second- and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-, second- and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second- and fourth-degree conspiracy and related counts. The top count in the indictment carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. [See addendum for the full list of defendants.]
The Acting District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, between June 2016 and March 2017, the defendants participated in a narcotics distribution operation that spanned all of New York City, some upstate New York counties, and Phoenix, Arizona. The investigation relied on court-ordered electronic intercepts as well as physical and video surveillance. Various members assumed different roles and the ring had a hierarchy in its supply and distribution operations.
Jerome Horton was the head of the Brooklyn-based distribution operation, according to the investigation, with Willie Billingslea directly below him. They allegedly had a number of redistributors who purchased and resold heroin and cocaine in amounts ranging from five to 800 grams. The alleged redistributors included Christopher Corley, Brian Davis, Stephone Nottingham, and Gary Felton.
The primary supplier of the ring was allegedly Nigel Maloney, who was based in Phoenix and would mail heroin and cocaine to Warren Appolon, who operated out of his home in Jamaica, Queens. Appolon is accused of supplying the narcotics to Billingslea, who worked on behalf of Horton. When that supply chain was not enough to satisfy the high demand of the ring, the investigation revealed that the members of the ring sought additional suppliers. Joseph Raffone and Kristian Cruz allegedly served as secondary suppliers of heroin and furanyl fentanyl, apparently referred to as “White China” and received in bulk through the mail.
Furanyl fentanyl is a highly potent opiate that can be stronger than similar drugs and is often cheaper than heroin – it is an analog of the opiate fentanyl. Based on its slightly different chemical composition, it is not currently a controlled substance under New York State law, although the federal government listed it as a Schedule I controlled substance in November 2016. The transactions involving this substance have been charged as attempted sales, based on the defendant’s belief that the substance was actually heroin or a controlled substance.
It is alleged that Horton, Billingslea and their co-conspirators stored narcotics and sales proceeds under floor boards, in storage rooms and other locations. They also utilized vehicles equipped with elaborate hiding spaces (or “traps”) to store and transport the drugs. Customers contacted members of the operation by making phone calls or sending text messages to arrange transactions. The sales were typically completed during hand-to-hand transactions in vehicles, in buildings or on the street, throughout New York City, according to the indictment. As alleged, when dealers ran out, they contacted the above-mentioned ringleaders and arranged for the pick-up of new supplies, at which point outstanding debts were also settled.
During the course of the investigation, a total of 2.455 kilograms of cocaine, 1.704 kilograms of heroin and 4.581 kilograms of furanyl fentanyl were recovered. Transactions relating to additional narcotics were identified through communications intercepted pursuant to court order. In addition, 17 operable firearms were seized in the course of the investigation.
The Acting District Attorney thanked the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Queens District Attorney’s Office for their assistance with the investigation.
The investigation was conducted by New York City Police Department Detective Bureau’s Brooklyn North Gang Squad Detective Paul Molinaro, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Michael Kemper, Captain Craig Edelman and Lieutenant Vincent Terrano.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Ashlyn Miranda, with the assistance of Assistant District Attorney Adam Wolk, of the District Attorney’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Jonathan R. Sennett, Deputy Chief, and Assistant District Attorney Nicole Chavis, VCE Chief, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division and Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief.
Heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and guns recovered in “Operation Hardball,” w/ @NYPDnews https://t.co/pbem0ELpIa
— Eric Gonzalez (@BrooklynDA) March 29, 2017
An indictment is merely an accusation and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.