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DA: Guilty verdict in trial of Long Beach heroin dealer Rodney Coward

A Nassau jury found a Long Beach man guilty of dealing heroin Wednesday in a verdict that prosecutors say followed the 2018 dismantling of a tightknit ring that pumped drugs onto the seaside city’s streets for several years.

Rodney Coward, 44, is now facing up to a decade in prison after his conviction on felony charges of selling and possessing heroin, according to the Nassau district attorney’s office.

He was among a handful of suspects investigators said they nabbed in November after a 14-month investigation into a ring centered on Long Beach’s Beech Street corridor that sold heroin, cocaine, crack, oxycodone pills and Xanax to dozens of people in the city and in nearby communities.

Law enforcement officials previously said they seized more than half a kilogram of drugs and 100 pills, with a combined street value of about $650,000, along with a loaded revolver and a shotgun.

The drug enterprise was highly organized and only did deals with insiders, which helped ring members keep the illicit business running for years while avoiding detection, according to authorities.

Prosecutors previously identified the ring’s leader as Robert Gause, 50, of Atlantic Beach. State records show Gause went to prison last month and is serving a 4-year sentence after his conviction on multiple drug sale charges.

Prosecutors said at the time of the bust that alleged Latin Kings gang member Carlos Andujar, then 34, of Inwood, supplied cocaine and crack to Gause.

He then funneled the drugs to Coward and two others for sales locally, according to authorities.

Gause also had connections to buy and resell other drugs, prosecutors had alleged.

The case against Andujar, who pleaded not guilty, is still pending, according to court records.

Many of the ring’s drug sales were hand-to-hand deals near Long Beach's train station, according to authorities, who said investigators did surveillance and drug buys during a probe sparked by a tip in mid-2017.

Prosecutors said Coward sold 31 grams of uncut heroin in Island Park in June 2017 — enough of the narcotic to convert into about 2,000 doses for sale on the street.

Coward’s attorney, Joseph Lo Piccolo, said Thursday the defense respectfully disagreed with the jury's verdict and his client would be "vigorously appealing his conviction."

The Garden City lawyer added: "The investigation, while lengthy, involved one interaction between Coward and the other defendants and he was caught up in this investigation merely for knowing these other individuals."

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement that the 2018 bust "dramatically reduced the amount of heroin and other drug sales in Long Beach," while calling Coward "a career drug dealer who routinely sold poison in our communities."

Authorities identified other alleged ring members at the time of the arrests as Harold Chestnut, then 59, and Ronnie Sutton, then 45, both of Long Beach.

Court records show Chestnut got an 8-month jail sentence after pleading guilty in January to a felony heroin possession charge.

Prosecutors said Sutton pleaded guilty in May to drug and weapon possession and got a 4-year prison sentence.

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