Two men arrested as part of an investigation into the largest seizure of methamphetamine in New York State history were arraigned Tuesday in New Rochelle City Court.
Jesus Villanueva, 40, and Christopher Melendez, 40, did not enter a plea to a charge of first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. If convicted of the crime, they face the possibility of spending the rest of their lives behind bars. The two men rented rooms at a boardinghouse at 71 Church St., that federal and local agents raided Sunday. They were taken into custody on charges that they possessed 50 pounds of the powerful synthetic drug.
The street value of the seizure is estimated to be $800,000.
While methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, has become a nationwide epidemic, its appearance in the metropolitan New York area is rare.
"It's very minimal here," said Erin McKenzie-Mulvey, an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York field office. "New York's always been a hub for heroin, cocaine, and lately prescription drugs."
Investigators think the drug might have been targeted toward markets overseas, Mulvey said.
A synthetic speed narcotic that often has cold medication as its base ingredient, the drug is most often manufactured in illegal labs in Mexico, smuggled into California and then sold throughout the United States with the bulk of sales in the southwest and rural areas.
DEA officials said Sunday that the seizure and arrests came after a long-running investigation.
Martin Moreno, a friend of Villanueva's who has known him more than 20 years said he was "stunned" by the charges.
"He's a clean man," he said as he stood outside New Rochelle City Court. "I've never even seen him drunk in 20 years."
Moreno, who employed Villanueva as a housepainter, said he served as best man at his wedding. Moreno said Villanueva still sends part of his paycheck home to his wife and four kids in Mexico.
Moreno said he did not know Melendez, describing him as a friend of Villanueva's, noting that the two men hailed from the same hometown in Mexico. Villanueva picked Melendez up at the airport three months ago, Moreno said, and Melendez was soon renting a room in the same house as Villanueva. Moreno said he did not know what Melendez did for a living.
Villanueva's lawyer, Max DiFabio, said his client had done noting illegal.
"Based on my information, my client was at the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
Melendez's lawyer, Brian Klein, of the Westchester Legal Aid Society, did not comment as he left court.