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DEA Not Joking Around, Arrests
DEC 7 -- John P. Gilbride , United States Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Special Agent-in-Charge, Roslynn R. Mauskopf , United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Michael J. Thomas , Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation announce a series of arrests of twelve members of the self-styled “Cartoon Network.” “Cartoon Network” was a high-potency marijuana distribution organization catering to customers throughout the New York City metropolitan area.
According to the indictment and complaints, the defendants’ organization received up to 600 customer telephone calls per day from over 50,000 different telephone numbers through a roving call center and delivered the marijuana via a distribution system of drug couriers.
According to the indictment and the complaints, the defendants distributed more than a ton of highly potent, hydroponically grown marijuana between January 1, 1999 and December 1, 2005, utilizing a mobile call center that regularly changed locations from hotel rooms and apartments in New York City and Long Island. Managers of the drug enterprise operated the call center, which involved multiple pagers, mobile telephones, and computers.
Customers typically contacted the defendants through pager numbers. Their calls were then returned by managers at the call centers, who used the codeword “Cartoon.” The customers were required to provide identifying information, which the managers checked against their computerized records of all customers. Once a customer’s identity was confirmed, the order was accepted, generally in the amount of between $100 to $500. The marijuana was then packaged in plastic vials bearing the Cartoon Network logo and delivered by the organization’s couriers.
New customers had to be referred by an existing customer, and before being added to the computer database they were checked out by the organization’s manager of security, who also provided protection for the defendants.
To date, the investigation has resulted in the seizure of $837,000 worth of marijuana and approximately $685,000 in cash. In addition, seven residences, located in
Massapequa, Rosedale, Lynbrook, Ridgewood, and Brooklyn, New York, and 16 vehicles used to facilitate the organization’s drug distribution operations have been seized, along with thousands of vials packaged for holiday season delivery to customers with the greeting “Happy Holidays from Your Friends at Cartoon.”
DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Gilbride stated, “Drug trafficking at all levels impacts the residents of New York and the surrounding area, especially the young and defenseless. Operation Cartoon Network targeted a significant number of drug traffickers who made millions of dollars by luring the weak into drug dens where traffickers pushed their poison for monetary gain. This successful operation is yet another example of our combined federal, state, and local efforts to remove drug traffickers from wherever they pursue their trade and make the community a safer place.”
“Identifying and dismantling major drug distribution networks is a priority of this office,” stated United States Attorney Mauskopf . “Notwithstanding their sophisticated tactics, including the use of mobile technologies, computerized records, multiple couriers, and security precautions, the defendants could not evade the tireless efforts of law enforcement.” Ms. Mauskopf congratulated the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service for this highly successful investigation and thanked the United States Marshal’s Service, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, New York State Police, Nassau County Police Department, Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, and the New York City Police Department for their assistance, and stated that the investigation is continuing.
IRS Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas stated, “Our role is to financially disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations by tracing any property used in the promotion of the illegal business, such as cars and real estate.”
In the first takedown, on November 17, 2005, RICHARD TRAVERS, BRUCE SCHNEIDER, BARRY SCHWIMMER, and FRED PERRY – who provided wholesale quantities of marijuana to the organization at prices ranging from $5,000 to $7,000 per pound – were arrested and charged in a complaint with trafficking in marijuana and money laundering. At their initial appearances on November 18, before United States Magistrate Judge James Orenstein at the U.S. Courthouse in Central Islip, New York, they were ordered detained.
On December 5, 2005, an indictment was unsealed charging JOHN NEBEL, the founder and leader of the organization, and JAY ZEILBERGER, the organization’s principal wholesale supplier, with conspiring to traffic in more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and money laundering. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $22,500,000 in cash, personal residences, businesses, vehicles, and a boat. NEBEL was arraigned on December 5, before United States District Judge Leonard D. Wexler and detained. Two complaints unsealed on the same day charge seven managers of the organization –JOSE MONTANEZ, MARK FERRARIS, SHABU KUSUMAN, HARRY PEREZ, ALONZO HUMPHREY, HAROLD CROXTON, and HECTOR L. RODRIGUEZ – as well as JOHN NEBEL’s girlfriend, VANESSA LINDSAY – with conspiring to traffic in more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. The defendants who have been arrested were arraigned on December 5 by United States Magistrate Judge Arlene R. Lindsay and detained. The case is assigned to Judge Wexler.
The charges and arrests are the product of an investigation initiated in 2004 and involved the execution of 28 search warrants in New York City and Long Island, multiple wiretaps, surveillances, and undercover purchases of marijuana. The investigation was conducted by the Career Dealer Initiative, a task force of federal and state agents organized and supervised by the United States Attorney’s Office that targets major marijuana dealers in the New York City metropolitan area and on Long Island. The initiative combines historical investigation with financial analysis to identify, prosecute, and dismantle professional wholesale drug merchants who have often avoided investigation and prosecution as a result of their familiarity with law enforcement techniques, prosecution guidelines, and law enforcement priorities. To date, the initiative has resulted in the arrest of over 150 defendants and the seizure of more than $40 million. In addition, many previously unsolved major crimes in Nassau and Suffolk Counties have been cleared, including ten drive-by shootings, 16 arsons, 48 home invasion burglaries, nine robberies, and two drug-related kidnappings. Each defendant has been charged with conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, and if convicted faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life, a minimum of five years’ supervised release, and a $4,000,000 fine. NEBEL and ZEILBERGER are also charged with conspiracy to launder money and, if convicted, each faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $500,000.
The government’s cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Burton T. Ryan, Jr., Allen L. Bode, and James Knapp.