Nine Individuals Arrested and Major Marijuana Distribution Network Operating in Nassau County, NY Dismantled
NOV 5 Special Agent in Charge Anthony P. Placido, Drug Enforcement Administration New York, today announced the arrest of 9 individuals and the dismantling of a major marijuana distribution network operating in Nassau County, New York.
On October 7, members of the Long Island District Office of the DEA and Detectives from the Nassau Police Department executed 18 search warrants in Nassau and Suffolk. Besides the 9 arrests (including 4 prior felony offenders, 2 of whom were on parole), the execution of these warrants resulted in the seizure of 17 handguns (which included a pen gun), a shotgun, a rifle, approximately 175 pounds of marijuana, approximately $700,000 in proceeds or substituted proceeds, and 5 motor vehicles (including a recently purchased camper/recreational vehicle). Six of those arrested were charged in Nassau County with Sale or Possession of Marijuana in the First Degree, both Class C Felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The other 3 defendants are charged with Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a Class E Felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison.
The arrests and seizures were the result of a long-term investigation into a criminal enterprise specializing in the importation and sale of large quantities of marijuana. In the early part of this year, it came to the attention of Task Force Officers assigned to the DEA that Lester Huffer was selling marijuana from his sign store on Pine Hollow Road in Oyster Bay. Huffer, the former president of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, also worked as "Santa Claus" at malls and nurseries during the Christmas season.
Investigators used both conventional and electronic surveillance in this operation, as well as the deployment of undercover officers. They learned, in short order, that Huffer was selling marijuana from his home and his sign store in Oyster Bay. In the typical scenario, the client would call the store, place an order, and then stop by to make a purchase. Most of the marijuana Huffer sold was low-grade quality that he code-named "Bob" in deference to Bob Marley, the deceased Reggae artist. "Bob" was imported from Mexico into Texas and then driven to Nassau County in a mini-van. The wholesalers usually sold "Bob" on consignment, and the retailers made payment by mailing large quantities of currency through the U.S. Mails to post office boxes in Austin, Texas.
Although this low-grade marijuana accounted for the major part of the market, Huffer also sold high grade marijuana which was code named "Phil". This "hydroponic" marijuana , which is cultivated in water rather than soil, was very expensive, often selling at wholesale price roughly three times higher than the less expensive variety. Most of the "Phil" sold by members of the conspiracy came from Suffolk and was sold at a wholesale price in the neighborhood of $3,200 to $3,500 per pound.
Over a period of time, investigators learned that Huffer was only a part of a larger conspiracy that operated in Washington, California, Texas and Mexico. Because the operation was compartmentalized, individual conspirators often did not know of the existence of other members of the conspiracy. The co-conspirators came from many different walks of life. They included a stage-rigger, clammers, shell-fish wholesalers, a music impresario and a retired pharmacist.
One defendant, for example, was a courier and broker named John J. Donovan. Donovan, age 52, is a retired pharmacist. His co-conspirators regarded him as a master of the trade. Unlike other drug couriers, Donovan did not go to elaborate lengths to hide the marijuana. Instead, he transported it in ordinary cardboard boxes that were placed in the passenger compartment of a mini-van. He made it a point to stay within the speed limit and obey all traffic control devices. He used a mini-van to transport up to 300 pounds of marijuana per trip, from coast to coast. The marijuana was stored in cardboard boxes that were stacked in open view in the passenger compartment. Donovan went coast to coast in the mini-van and in the course of two years traveled almost 200,000 miles plying his trade. When he was arrested, he was carrying almost 100 hundred pounds of marijuana and in excess of $350,000 in twenty dollar bills which was intended to be used for prospective purchase of "Phil", the higher grade marijuana that the conspirators were trafficking in.
Those arrested had varying levels of exposure to the criminal justice system. At one end of the spectrum were middle-aged individuals who had never been arrested, and at the other end were defendants who had two prior felony convictions for similar criminal activity.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony P. Placido stated, "Recently many have sought to downplay the danger posed by marijuana. The marijuana traffickers in this case were in possession of seventeen handguns, clearly demonstrating that criminals engaged in the sale of this illegal drug are extremely dangerous. Moreover, this illegal drug poses a risk to the drug abuser and the public at large. An estimated 38,000 high school seniors reported in 2001 that they had crashed while driving under the influence of marijuana. Such risks to others make no distinction as to whether the user claims a 'medical' purpose."
"This was a highly successful operation," Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon said, "in which we worked with federal authorities to break up a major marijuana network, and also to make our communities safer by confiscating a significant number of dangerous weapons and getting prior criminal offenders off the streets."
Charged with Criminal Sale of Marijuana in the First Degree are: Lester Huffer, 57, of 2 Michael F Street, Locust Valley; Dustin Aaronson, 26, of 80 West Riviera Drive, Lindenhurst; and Mitchell Friedman, 39, of 18 Cyrus Point Lane, Bayville. Charged with Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the First Degree are: Dan Beech, 40, of 2350 Broadway, New York City; and John J. Donovan, 52, of Olympia, Washington. Paula Holst, 46, of 2 Michael F Street, Locust Valley, is charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Fourth Degree, also a Class C Felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Charged with Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree are: Jesse Frascella, 24, of 21 Newton Avenue, Selden; John Redlefsen, 40, of 753 Rockaway Avenue, Valley Stream; and Kenneth Huffer, 52, of 2611 State Route 66, Chatham, NY.