Local and federal authorities took down a massive coast-to-coast distribution ring for a drug that most people forgot about when they packed away their bell-bottoms: quaaludes.

Nassau prosecutors and police, together with federal investigators, arrested 22 people Tuesday night and seized tens of thousands of pills and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from locations across Long Island and in the city, and as far away as California, they said Wednesday.

They said the bust effectively quashed a network that was distributing about 100,000 pills a year across Long Island and in the city.

"A major drug pipeline into Nassau County has been permanently destroyed," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.

The three-year investigation, which Rice dubbed "Operation: Lude Behavior," culminated with the arrests Tuesday night when 13 search warrants were executed at several locations, including two drug manufacturing companies and a $1.4-million Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan.

The U.S. attorney's office charged the man they described as the ringleader - Dennis Fairley, 65, of Manhattan - with conspiracy to distribute methaqualone, the generic name for quaaludes. Fairley's wife, Ana Sanchez, and his brother, Thomas Fairley, also have been charged for what prosecutors said is their role in the quaalude distribution network.

Dennis Fairley, a chemist who owns the two raided chemical testing laboratories in Brooklyn and Emeryville, Calif., both of which prosecutors say manufactured hundreds of thousands of quaaludes a year, was held on $3 million bail. Records show he also is the former owner of the now-closed topless club Legz Diamond in Manhattan.

In federal court in Manhattan yesterday, Jennifer E. Burns, an assistant U.S. attorney, asked that Dennis Fairley be jailed without bail because authorities found a firearm during their search and that he has a home in Istanbul.

"The defendant presents a danger to the community," Burns said.

The other defendants - almost all in their 50s and early 60s - were released on personal recognizance bonds of between $250,000 and $500,000, some secured with property.

"I think he's probably been up all night," Dennis Fairley's lawyer, Joyce London, said outside the courtroom. "He hasn't slept and he hasn't eaten in 24 hours."

Quaaludes are a sedative-hypnotic drug that became popular in the 1960s and '70s.

Authorities said this is the first time in recent memory that they have made quaalude arrests. They said it is not clear whether the drug is coming back into vogue.

"Drugs are cyclical," Rice said.

Nassau police said their investigation began in November 2007 when Officers Matt McCartin and Paul Catanzaro arrested a man on charges that he shoplifted from Home Depot. The man gave the officers information about a loan shark who also sold drugs, including quaaludes, and that man's arrest gradually led them to discover the drug ring.

Investigators soon identified Ralph Marazzo as being part of the drug distribution ring, and the investigation grew, they said.

"This was a case that started with good old-fashioned police work, and became a major investigation," Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said.

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