Five raids at different locations resulted in 22 arrests on felony drug charges, stemming from an alleged cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl distribution syndicate operating out of the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton.
Federal authorities, along with state and East End police departments, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, and the office of District Attorney Tim Sini, conducted a sweep October 23 and 24. The drug distribution group had tentacles in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton, Flanders, Riverhead, and Hampton Bays, according to the charges.
Three of those arrested have been charged under the state’s drug kingpin law as major narcotics traffickers, which is triggered when total proceeds earned within a six-month period from the sale of narcotics exceed $75,000. By law, those three are not eligible for bail at the local level and were remanded to county jail after being arraigned October 24.
Several other defendants were not eligible for bail because of their prior criminal records.
The operation netted over $1 million the past year, according to police.
The investigation was spurred after authorities noticed a spike in drug-related crime on the reservation. It was led by state police, the agency that has jurisdiction over that area, Sini said.
The arraignment process on October 24 was unusual. The prisoners were shuttled in unmarked black vans from county jail in Riverside to Southampton Village Justice Court, where Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein conducted the arraignments. The accused were escorted by officers in SWAT team armor, most of whom were wearing ski masks to hide their identity.
It is not known why the arraignments were held in the village courthouse, instead of the Southampton Town Justice Court in Hampton Bays, which has jurisdiction over the Shinnecock Reservation.
Sini said that by the time the grand jury concludes its work on those rounded up during the multi-agency raids, it is likely that more charges will be added, possibly including additional major trafficker charges. The drug kingpin law carries a 25-years-to-life sentence upon conviction.
The secret grand jury, which is working in the county courthouse in Riverside, was required by law to indict the 22 by either Monday, October 28 or Tuesday, October 29, depending on the date and time of the defendant’s arrests, or all those remaining in custody would be released. As of Monday morning, the majority remained behind bars, with three having made bail as of Tuesday morning.One of the attorneys involved, Carl Irace, said that his client, Matthew Manzella, who was charged with conspiracy, a B felony, was notified that the grand jury was hearing his case Monday. Indictments were anticipated in all 22 cases.
The bail amounts set for the defendants who were not remanded without bail during the long day of arraignments ranged from $10,000 to $500,000.
Kooperstein agreed to a request by assistant district attorney Ryan Hunter requiring the defendants who post bail provide proof that the money being presented was not obtained through criminal activity.
The three charged thus far under the drug kingpin statute were Ryan Kellis, 32, and Justin Eleazer, 29 — both Shinnecock residents who Sini said were dealing quantities of heroin and cocaine both on the reservation and in neighboring towns and villages — and Benjamin Diaz, 47, of the Bronx, who Sini said was a primary supplier of cocaine for the ring. Kellis and Eleazer would test the potency of their fentanyl-laced heroin on their co-conspirators, Sini said at the press ference. He added that at least five overdose deaths were attributed to the narcotics the ring was selling.
Another man dealing narcotics out of the reservation was William Bess III, 35, of Southampton. Johnnie Booker, 45, of Bellport, was his supplier, police said. Bess was charged with both possession and selling narcotics, and is being held on $25,000 bail. Booker, who has an extensive criminal record which includes convictions on violent crimes, is being held on $500,000 bail.
Others arraigned included Thomas Halek, 49, of Hampton Bays; Walter Mims, 33, of Southampton; Nicholas Spiegel, 32, of Hampton Bays; and Frank Taylor, 59, of Southampton. All are facing B felony conspiracy charges.
Buy And Bust
The district attorney’s office released the list of names of those arrested.
That list includes Joseph, 27, of Sag Harbor. Dowling is a former football star at East Hampton High School who was on track toward a college scholarship before his first narcotics-related arrest. He was one of the first of the Shinnecock 22 to be taken into custody.
On August 9, he was charged with narcotics sale and possession by Riverhead town police and was indicted. Bail was set at that time at $25,000. Kooperstein added $500 to that amount. Dowling has been in custody since that arrest in Riverhead.
Dowling has never missed a court appearance during his several forays through the criminal justice system. His most recent was following his 2016 arrest after East Hampton Town police detectives coordinated a buy-and-bust operation using mailboxes on Lighthouse Lane in Sag Harbor. He eventually pleaded guilty in county court and entered a drug treatment program.
On October 24, the district attorney added a B felony conspiracy charge to Dowling’s narcotics charges out of Riverhead.
Another East Hampton High School graduate arraigned October 24 on a conspiracy charge was John Tracy, 25, of Springs. In 2013 he robbed Springs Wine & Liquors of $1500 by displaying what appeared to be a gun. He was convicted of robbery in 2015. Bail was set at $100,000, and was posted Saturday.
The only other defendant charged with being part of the distribution conspiracy who had posted bail as of Monday morning was Nichole Rosado, 29, of Southampton, the only woman among those charged.
Yet another defendant charged with conspiracy is Maxwell Byrne of Southampton. Byrne was convicted of burglary in 2016. His defense attorney told the court during his arraignment that Byrne recently completed a successful stay at the Seafield Center, a drug rehabilitation facility, and has been accepted back into his family’s house free of drugs. He said that Byrne is working as a caretaker on an Osprey Lane estate in Water Mill. Hunter told the judge that Byrne was a runner of narcotics for the syndicate, and remined her of his recent criminal conviction. Bail was set at $250,000.
When Derrick Quinn, 49, of Southampton was led into court October 24 to be arraigned on the conspiracy charge he is facing, he was shaking. Quinn spent four years in the armed forces during Operation Desert Storm, his attorney Christopher Brocato told Kooperstein. He is the coach of his daughter’s fifth-grade basketball team, and has no prior felony convictions, the attorney said.
Hunter argued that Quinn has been convicted of seven misdemeanor crimes in his life, and was another of the runners of narcotics for the group. Quinn’s bail was set at $100,000. Kooperstein agreed to send papers to the county jail that will allow him to be treated for his withdrawal symptoms.
The last to be arraigned on October 24 was Kellis. He was represented for the arraignment by Anthony Russo, who runs the 18B program that supplied many of the attorneys on-hand that day for the defendants. Russo told the court that Kellis has retained a New York City-based attorney, Scott Leemon. Leemon is a well-known attorney that has represented several prominent rappers in recent years, such as Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Trevor George Smith Jr., known as Busta Rhymes.
Russo told the court that Kellis works at the Cloud Nine Smoke & Vape Shop on the reservation.
Kellis is currently on probation after pleading to a misdemeanor possession charge September 19. More important in relation to the drug kingpin charge, Kellis, after being pulled over by state police for allegedly speeding on August 7, was charged with possession of over a half-ounce of narcotics, a B felony. He was arraigned on that charge in Central Islip August 8 in front of Justice Gaetan Lozito, who set bail at $25,000. He was not indicted, and, it appears from court records, was
released August 13.
Others arrested on the conspiracy charge alone include Ryan Aldrich, 27, of East Hampton’ and Brandon Gardner, 33; Edward Gumbs, 57; Valton Reddick, 51; and Richard Short, 50; all of Southampton. Their bail amounts go from $25,000 up.
Two of the last to be arrested in the sweep who were arraigned October 24 were Trevor Hardin, 29, and Kenneth Rivero, 34. based on an August 22 raid on a residence police said the two share in Flanders. That raid turned up an assault weapon, $16,000, over a half-ounce of narcotics, and over 10 pounds of marijuana, all leading to felony charges. Rivero was also charged with conspiracy.
Rivero posted $10,000 bail on Monday. Hardin is being held on $100,000.