A retired Suffolk County police officer, his daughter and a dean's list college student were among those arrested Tuesday for allegedly running a heroin-trafficking ring that supplied large quantities of the narcotic on Long Island.
Heavily armed teams of FBI agents and Nassau County police fanned out across Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Brooklyn at dawn Tuesday to bust members of the operation that moved more than 44 pounds of heroin with a street value of $2.75 million in the past nine months, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said during a news conference at Eastern District Court in Central Islip.
Among those arrested are retired Suffolk County Marine Bureau officer Roland Stern, 68, and his daughter, Corey Stern, 37, both of Patchogue; Tina Catrini, 29, and Matthew Catrini, 24, a married couple from Farmingville; Kathryn Pappas, 21, of Jericho, the Hofstra University student; and Dana Sollecito, 23, who allegedly sold heroin to buyers from the parking lot of the Corner Gallery, a restaurant in Massapequa.
"The members came from different backgrounds but were united in a common cause -- selling poison for profit," Lynch said.
The 20 suspects were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Fourteen of them were arraigned in federal court in Central Islip before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown. One was arrested but too ill to be arraigned. Two others were arrested in Massachusetts and are expected to be arraigned on Long Island Wednesday. The group's two alleged ringleaders are also expected to surrender Wednesday and be arraigned.
One suspect is at large. The arraigned suspects were held without bail pending future hearings.
The outfit, known as the Perez Organization for alleged ringleader Jose Perez, 26, was based in Woodhaven, Queens, importing heroin from the Dominican Republic and Mexico and distributing it throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, federal prosecutors said.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk called the ring "a wholesale operation, responsible for a significant portion of the heroin that ended up in the hands of users on Long Island." She said that buyers could purchase "a potentially lethal dose" of the drug from ring members for "about the cost of a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer."
At the proceeding, a woman who identified herself as Roland Stern's wife and Corey's mother said, "I don't want to say anything at this time. I don't know what's going on here."
Darlene Lopez, a sister of suspect Leonardo Lopez -- whose wife recently graduated from the New York Police Department's academy -- said her brother is innocent. "He's just hanging out with the wrong people," Lopez said. "He works hard for what he has."
Gerry Stanbrough, the owner of the Corner Gallery, said he hired Sollecito as a server at the eatery last year out of friendship with her father, who owned the restaurant until his death 15 years ago. He said he never noticed anything suspicious. "If something was going on, it happened when I wasn't here, under the cover of darkness because I wouldn't have stood for it," he said. "This is a family restaurant. We have kids who come here, grandmothers come here."
Sollecito's lawyer, John Carman of Garden City, and Pappas' lawyer, Robert Krakow of Garden City, declined to comment.
With Kery Murakami
and John Valenti