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School custodian arrested on heroin charges suspended

Joseph Latona, 27, of Merrick, was charged with

Joseph Latona, 27, of Merrick, was charged with selling and possessing heroin, police said, on March 17, 2010. Latona worked in the North Merrick school district for nine years and most recently was a custodian at Camp Avenue Elementary. (March 17, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A North Merrick school district custodian charged with selling heroin has been suspended and told to keep off school property, the district's superintendent said Wednesday morning.

The custodian, Joseph Latona, 27, of Merrick, was to be notified of his suspension in a hand-delivered letter Wednesday, North Merrick Superintendent David S. Feller said.

"We have acted immediately," Feller said. "We want to preserve the safety of our students and staff."

Feller also said the district would cooperate fully with the police investigation.

Police said there is no indication that Latona sold the heroin to schoolchildren or that he's sold on school grounds, but the department's chief spokesman, Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, asked the public to call their hotline, 800-244-TIPS, with any information.

Latona, who's worked in the district for nine years, was arrested Tuesday in connection with 73 bags of heroin he possessed or was seen selling, police said.

Cops saw Latona sell the heroin from his pickup truck on Laurel Court in North Merrick at 4:55 p.m., police said. When the officers approached, he fled in his vehicle. Smith said police didn't keep chasing Latona because doing so might endanger bystanders and they knew who he was. He surrendered after detectives contacted him.

The heroin bags seized were labeled "Black Magik" and worth "about $500 on the street," Smith said.

A judge ordered Latona jailed on $60,000 bond or $30,000 cash bail.

Latona has worked at Old Mill Road Elementary School for five years. Police said he worked for four years at Camp Avenue Elementary School before that.

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