A Suffolk drug ring has been busted after making millions of dollars in street sales monthly and delivering "door to door" to midlevel distributors -- an operation fueled by Long Island's growing heroin epidemic, authorities said Tuesday.
Two major suppliers and 20 others were arrested July 30 after a yearlong probe by the Suffolk County Heroin Task Force, law enforcement officials said. They described the drug bust as one of the county's two largest this year.
Raids on two Brentwood houses used as drug packaging centers netted more than $207,000, 13 firearms and 11 pounds of heroin and cocaine. The heroin alone had a street value of $500,000 to $1 million, task force officials said.
"This, in my view, makes a major dent in drug trafficking," said Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota at a news conference with officials from the county sheriff's office and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
The traffickers, who primarily sold in Suffolk, took special precautions with cellphones, but still, undercover buys and a three-month wiretap were the key in exposing members and how they worked, task force authorities said.
"They were actually ditching or throwing away their phones virtually every 20 or 30 days. We'd have to find . . . the other phones" to wiretap, Spota said.
"They were very, very surveillance conscious," he said. "When a person would come to buy drugs, they had to drive around the block, what they call 'square the block,' in case somebody was following them."
Every two weeks, suppliers at the top of this heroin and cocaine chain, Elvis Castro, 28, of Amityville, and Juan Smith, 25, of Valley Stream, would sell an average of 5 kilograms of heroin, about 11 pounds, and 2 kilos of cocaine, or 4.5 pounds, to midlevel buyers or "resellers," authorities said.
Midlevel distributors who were "steady" buyers got a special service -- they'd have their drug orders delivered, Spota said: "They were the ones going to the exits off the [Long Island] Expressway and Sunrise Highway, and reselling to the end users."
This service and drugs confiscated highlight the enormous profit in the heroin industry, task force officials said.
The drug killed a record 121 people in Nassau and Suffolk in 2012 and at least 120 last year -- the two highest totals ever recorded, data show.
John Austin, a DEA assistant special agent in the drug bust, said Long Island heroin use exploded after people addicted to prescription painkillers looked for cheaper highs.
"Once young people have gotten addicted to the opiate and they can no longer get it in their medicine cabinet or they're not willing to pay $25 a pill, the next step is heroin," Austin said.
Decades ago, some people may have been turned off by needles used for heroin hits, he said, but nowadays, the drug is so cheap it can be snorted.
Spota said Long Island is fertile ground for drug dealers: "It's an affluent area. People can afford to purchase the heroin, and it's readily accessible to them."
Castro, on parole for weapons possession and reckless endangerment, faces 20 years to life in prison on charges of second-degree conspiracy to distribute drugs, drug possession and weapons possession. His attorney could not be reached.
Smith, who served time on drug and weapons convictions, faces 15 to 30 years in prison on charges of second-degree conspiracy and drug possession.
His attorney, Ray Perini of Hauppauge, said Smith pleaded not guilty. "We'll test their proof in court," he said.
Both were held on a bail of $10 million bond or $5 million cash.All the suspects were from Long Island and only two of them were drug users, including a woman who is seven months pregnant, Spota said: "They knew the dangers of the poison they were selling."
Officials said the heroin seized was enough for 100,000 bags, each worth $5 to $10 on the street.