A West Hempstead man pegged by prosecutors as one of the founders of a ring that trafficked Mexican cocaine and heroin from Arizona to New York City — using Long Island as a distribution hub — has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and weapon charges.
Jury selection was about to start Wednesday in the Nassau County Court trial of Kervin Etienne, 38, when he agreed to a plea deal.
It will send him to prison for 7½ to 15 years, according to his defense attorney, Brian Carmody.
“He was looking at a potential life sentence. Under the circumstances, it was the best plea bargain he could get,” the Garden City lawyer said Thursday.
Etienne was among 17 people indicted by a grand jury in September 2017 in what law enforcement officials said was a drug enterprise involving several members of the same family that netted $50,000 to $75,000 a week.
District Attorney Madeline Singas said at the time of the bust that Nassau County was the hub for wholesale distribution of narcotics destined for sale hundreds of miles away.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official called the sting the culmination of a five-month wiretap investigation to dismantle an operation that sold mostly crack and cocaine, along with small amounts of heroin, and had a customer base stretching from Nassau, Suffolk and Queens counties north to Syracuse and south to Maryland.
Etienne, his cousin Lyonel Beaubrun, 42, of Rosedale, and another relative founded the operation and stored the drugs in trap houses in Nassau and Queens, prosecutors also alleged.
Beaubrun’s case remains pending, and defense attorney Bruce Barket said Thursday that the allegations against the Queens man are false.
“We anticipate a trial sometime in the fall,” the Garden City lawyer said. “Lyonel looks forward to getting a chance to be exonerated and get out of jail.”
Law enforcement officials said the ring supplied drugs to big-time dealers in New York City and on Long Island, as well as upstate and in Chicago, Maine, Maryland and Virginia.
Seizures in the case included 12 pounds of cocaine, 4 ounces of heroin, $190,000 cash, 2 defaced guns, a wristwatch worth more than $100,000 and 3 luxury vehicles, according to authorities.
Court records show the investigation began when federal prosecutors, along with the DEA, started a wiretap probe into targets trafficking cocaine through Oneida County and allegedly identified Etienne as a supplier for a Syracuse drug dealer.
Prosecutors said that led to the identification of other drug associates and locations used by the ring in Nassau and Queens.
Singas’s office used information from federal officials to then launch a probe into Etienne and his alleged network that included intercepting communications on his phone and on several others, records show.
“This defendant trafficked large quantities of drugs across state lines and sold poison in our communities," Singas said in a statement about Etienne. "With this top count plea, another major dealer who sold cocaine and heroin has been removed from our streets.”
Eight people involved in the case have pleaded guilty so far, and 11 cases remain open, according to Singas's office.
Authorities arrested two more people on top of the 17 named in the indictment when executing a search warrant related to the ring, prosecutors also said Thursday.
The judge scheduled Etienne’s sentencing for June 6.