WASHINGTON – New York City authorities on Tuesday announced the seizure of $30 million worth of narcotics, including a record 140 pounds of fentanyl, in two separate investigations that resulted in charges against four New York residents.
In addition to 32 million lethal doses of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, officials captured significant amounts of heroin and cocaine, according to NYC’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. The seizures are a significant victory for authorities combating New York City’s skyrocketing overdose rate. According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, fentanyl accounted for an all-time-high 1,374 deaths in 2016, a 46 percent increase from 2015.
NYC’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor collaborated with the DEA’s New Jersey Division and the NYPD’s Queens Narcotics Major Case Squad on the investigations. DEA agents and NYPD detectives captured more than 210 pounds of narcotics at a Queens apartment on Aug. 1, according to authorities, and just over a month later, another 55 pounds of narcotics were seized from a vehicle near Yankee Stadium on Sept. 5.
The Special Narcotics Prosecutor detailed how DEA and NYPD authorities followed 55-year-old Rogelio Alvarado-Robles and 51-year-old Blanca Flores-Solis, both of Queens, during an apparent drug deal at a Walmart in Manahawkin, N.J. According to authorities, the pair took a shopping bag from an “unidentified male” and eventually drove a silver Mercedes-Benz to an apartment in Queens. It was outside the apartment that agents recovered the backpack, which apparently carried about a kilogram of cocaine.
Police later obtained a search warrant for the apartment and found four suitcases and a purse full of narcotics. The final tally was 97 packages of narcotics, 86 of which contained fentanyl. According to the announcement, the seizure included more than 140 pounds of pure fentanyl and about 50 pounds of fentanyl mixed with heroin, the synthetic opioid tramadol and the tranquilizer ketamine. Alvarado-Robles and Blanca Flores-Solis have been charged with multiple counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
The second investigation involved a Sept. 5 stakeout at a Home Depot in Woodbridge, N.J. According to the announcement, authorities watched 35-year-old Edwin Guzman and 32-year-old Manuel Rivera-Santana, both of the Bronx, meet with two men inside a tractor trailer and leave with a large duffle bag in a Toyota Sienna. NYPD and DEA agents stopped the vehicle at West 161 Street and Major Deegan Expressway near Yankee Stadium. After obtaining a search warrant, authorities seized about 55 pounds of narcotics, most of which contained a fentanyl/heroin mixture. Guzman and Rivera-Santana have been charged with various counts of conspiracy and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
“The sheer volume of fentanyl pouring into the city is shocking,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said in a statement. “It’s not only killing a record number of people in New York City, but the city is used as a hub of regional distribution for a lethal substance that is taking thousands of lives throughout the Northeast. The success of these two investigations underscores the critical importance of collaboration.”
The seizures come as an opioid-fentanyl crisis sweeps the nation. Todd C. Owen, executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, relayed some startling statistics to House lawmakers earlier this month. He said that while CBP seized about 440 pounds of fentanyl in 2016, it had already seized more than 800 pounds this year. He noted that in 2016 officials didn’t have special categories for fentanyl, as everything fell into the opioid category, but he said there is more flooding into the country than years prior. Mexico and China are the largest importers, he noted.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in June backed a piece of bipartisan legislation aimed at combating the flow of Mexican and Chinese fentanyl. Introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act expands and modernizes resources and detection capabilities for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The bill, which has garnered 16 co-sponsors — including Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) – would authorize $15 million for new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities and personnel. According to Schumer’s office, American dealers can buy about $3,000 to $5,000 worth of fentanyl from Chinese labs and turn it into about $1.5 million in the U.S.
“These deadly substances are being delivered to our homes, being sold on our streets and destroying our families,” Schumer said in a June statement. “We know how they get here and where they come from, now we need to give CBP the additional resources it needs to stop this flood and help save lives.”