Two Suffolk County men will be charged under a new state law targeting kingpin drug dealers, after they were arrested for masterminding a multimillion-dollar drug ring that imported a powdered animal tranquilizer from Asia and resold it for illegal use at clubs and gyms, District Attorney Thomas Spota said Tuesday.
At a news conference in Hauppauge, Spota detailed a profitable operation that was "very surveillance-conscious" and one of the most sophisticated that undercover investigators said they had ever seen.
Accused ringleaders James Parrino, 33, of Holbrook and John DiPaola, 36, of Ronkonkoma first bought powdered ketamine from a supplier in Pakistan, sending payments with untraceable money orders in hollowed-out books, Spota said.
Ketamine, used by veterinarians as a tranquilizer, is a controlled substance and purchasers must have an FDA license to buy it legally in America, according to Dr. Tom Zimmerman, a veterinarian at Stony Brook University.
Parrino then traveled to China to make arrangements with a cheaper supplier, Spota said. Bought for $4,000 per kilo, the drug was mixed with liquids, repackaged into small bottles and resold out of their cars to dealers, who sold the ketamine as "Special K" to clubgoers seeking the drug's hallucinatory effects and to weightlifters who thought the drug would speed muscle recovery, Spota said.
The ringleaders, along with five other co-defendants charged with lesser crimes of possession and conspiracy, apparently made millions in the past five years of the operation, Spota said, with further details to come as investigators examine the ring's detailed accounting books.
Parrino and DiPaola face up to life in prison under the new felony Operating as a Major Trafficker law, which was passed in November and targets drug dealers who sell more than $75,000 worth of drugs in six months. Spota said it was the first time the statute has been applied in the state.
Parrino and DiPaola were ordered held without bail at their preliminary arraignments in First District Court in Central Islip Jan. 15, and are due back in court Thursday.
A call left for Parrino's attorney, Raymond Perini of Hauppauge, was not immediately returned. DiPaola's attorney, Anthony LaPinta, said he would comment after DiPaola is arraigned on the indictment Thursday in Riverhead.
The investigation, by Suffolk County police, the Drug Enforcement Agency and investigators from the district attorney's office, spanned 18 months before the seven were arrested Jan. 14, Spota said.
The bulk of the drugs was sold to clubgoers, Spota said. Nassau County police rarely encounter ketamine, according to Det. Lt. Kevin Smith.Ketamine's side effects on humans
Ketamine is an anesthetic drug used primarily to treat animals ranging from dogs to cows to primates, according to Dr. Tom Zimmerman, a veternarian at Stony Brook University. In humans, the effect is that of a hallucinogen. "It's related chemically to PCP so it can cause hallucinations and seizures," Zimmerman said. Negative side effects in humans include rapid heart rate, decreased blood pressure, change in respiration, anorexia, nausea and vomiting, he said. Ketamine is a Class C drug in New York and can be bought legally only with an FDA license, he said.