An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.
Heroin on Long Island is as easy to order as pizza, authorities say, with "on demand" drug couriers delivering the opiate straight to customers' doors.
The illegal delivery services are thriving as drug users accustomed to ordering food and new clothes on their smartphones increasingly expect the same level of convenience when it comes to buying narcotics, according to law enforcement investigators, treatment experts and recovering addicts.
"It's a highly evolved network that allows users to buy heroin without leaving the comfort of their homes," Steven Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said of Long Island's heroin-delivery services.
"You're dealing with a generation that's conditioned to instant gratification, and the dealers are taking advantage of that," he said. "They have dispatchers throughout Long Island."
Law enforcement officials said the same technological advances that allow drug dealers, dispatchers, drivers and customers to communicate in real time are being used by authorities to probe those illicit operations.
"In the age of smartphones, nearly anything -- including drugs -- is available for home delivery, but dealers should be warned that law enforcement is online, too, and the next home delivery may include a long detour to prison," acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
Nassau Police Deputy Insp. Gary Shapiro said the department and its narcotics and vice squad "are no strangers as to the innovative ways that illicit drug sellers and users connect."
Dealing out of the shadows
"Internet marketplaces, merchandise delivery services and door-to-door services are means to sell product," he added. "Technology has made it easier for people to communicate and connect without going into the shadows."
Suffolk officials said home-delivery heroin sales also are occurring in their county.
"We've made a number of arrests of dealers who are going to addicts' homes to sell to them," said William Madigan, chief of detectives for the Suffolk County Police Department. "The issue that arises then is that the buyers use the drugs at their house. Then we see overdoses there."
Treatment experts and former addicts in both counties said heroin home deliveries are happening just as frequently as street deals.
"For every drug deal that's happening in a parking lot or on a side street, there's a door-knock delivery happening somewhere else," said Richard Leiter, 36, of Rockville Centre, a recovering heroin addict.
Leiter said most of the heroin he used was delivered to his home by drug "delivery men."
'A one-minute call away'
"At this moment, wherever you live on the Island, heroin's a one-minute call away," he said.
The precise number of people arrested for suspected involvement in door-to-door heroin delivery services in the region is unknown, because law enforcement agencies do not specifically track that data.
However, a Newsday review of hundreds of court records for drug cases in Nassau and Suffolk counties and in New York City show more than 70 people have been arrested for alleged involvement in such operations since January 2014.
Among them were Juan Smith, 25, of Valley Stream, and Elvis Castro, 28, of Amityville, who were arrested in July 2014 on charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine.
Suffolk County prosecutors identified the men as two of the primary suppliers of the heroin ring, which allegedly provided door-to-door delivery service to some customers. Officials also charged 19 other people for their alleged involvement in the operation.
The ring sold 5 kilos, roughly 11 pounds, of heroin -- each worth between $50,000 and $60,000 wholesale -- every two weeks in Suffolk, officials said.
Smith and Castro, who pleaded not guilty, remain jailed on $5 million bail each while awaiting trial. Their attorneys could not be reached for comment.
"They knew the dangers of the poison they were selling," Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said after the accused dealers' arrests.
Drug-dealing organizations providing home delivery of heroin have been broken up in Nassau County as well, officials said.
Authorities there announced the arrests of nine people in December 2014 for their alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar drug ring that brought heroin from Mexico to Long Island and the five boroughs, including some that got delivered in person to users' homes. The suspects in that case still are awaiting trial.
Customers get phone numbers for heroin delivery services from dealers and fellow addicts, and on social media, officials said.
Typically, their calls are routed to someone who works as a dispatcher for the service, officials said. That person takes the customers' order and dispatches a delivery driver to their address.
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, an addiction expert and president and CEO of the Mineola-based Family and Children's Association, which provides addiction treatment, said most heroin deals on Long Island are "prearranged via text, instant messages or cell calls, sometimes on burner phones" that are disposable prepaid cellphones that are difficult for law enforcement to trace.
"The more comfortable a user gets -- or rather the more desperate they become -- the more likely they are to have product driven right up to their doorstep," Reynolds added."Because their daily volume has steadily increased over time, the dealer is willing to go further to satisfy the whims of a customer."
The delivery services owe some of their success to geography, Reynolds said.
"Keep in mind, if you are heavily addicted to heroin, every cent is diverted to that, so owning and maintaining a car gets difficult and getting around on Long Island without one is virtually impossible," Reynolds said. "Nobody wants to sit on the NICE bus in full-blown withdrawal."
Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.
The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.
We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.
In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.
Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.
The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Richard Leiter. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.
Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:
Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.
Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.
On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.
Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.
Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.
Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”
“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”
During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.
Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.
Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.
Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.