Seven Indicted in Montauk Drug Ring Bust
A 33-count indictment against six of the 17 men arrested in the bust of a major Montauk drug ring earlier this month plus an additional defendant was unsealed in Suffolk County Criminal Court on Thursday.
The five men in court, all from Puerto Rico and working seasonal jobs in restaurants in Montauk, are accused of running the largest drug ring on the South Fork, making as much as $100,000 in three weeks, according to William Nash, an assistant district attorney with District Attorney Timothy D. Sini's narcotics bureau. A grand jury handed down the indictment on Aug. 24.
Geraldo Vargas-Munoz, known as Chelo, is facing 25 years to life, Mr. Nash told Justice Timothy Mazzei. He described him as a "major trafficker" and the "largest purveyor" of cocaine and oxycodone in Montauk. He allegedly sold drugs out the back door of the kitchen at Swallow East, where he worked as a chef, and also supplied others with narcotics to sell.
He was charged with "a litany of felony offenses," including operating as a major trafficker — a top-level drug felony — and conspiracy in the second degree, after a five-month investigation by the Suffolk County district attorney's office and its East End Drug Task Force.
Mr. Vargas-Munoz, 37, who has been in the custody of the Suffolk County sheriff's office since his arrest two weeks ago, stood silent before the judge. Walter Zornes, a Hampton Bays attorney who represented Mr. Vargas-Munoz at arraignment because the attorney his family had retained was out of town, entered a plea of not guilty.
Police used court-authorized eavesdropping and electronic surveillance, as well as undercover drug buys, in their investigation. In one instance, the assistant district attorney told the court, Mr. Vargas-Munoz sold 67 grams of cocaine to an undercover officer.
On Aug. 14, police arrested Mr. Vargas-Munoz after he dropped his co-defendant Elvin Silva-Ruiz off at Kennedy Airport in Queens. The following day, police executed a search warrant and found half a kilo of cocaine allegedly belonging to Mr. Vargas-Munoz.
He has no prior criminal record, including in Puerto Rico, Mr. Nash conceded. However, because of his strong ties to the island and his lack of ties in Suffolk County, where he worked seasonally, the D.A.'s office asked for $1 million cash bail or a $2 million bond alternative, which was set by Justice Mazzei. Mr. Nash asked that a bail source hearing take place if Mr. Vargas-Munoz was able to make bail.
Mr. Zornes reserved the right to make a bail application at a later date. Mr. Vargas-Munoz's next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 26.
Mr. Silva-Ruiz, known as Pito, was brought in for arraignment next, appearing much thinner than he had in a mug shot supplied by the D.A.'s office earlier this month.
Mr. Nash described him as "a key component in the large narcotics distribution organization." He sold a half-ounce of cocaine to an undercover officer, caught on a digital recording, the assistant D.A. said. Mr. Silva-Ruiz pleaded not guilty to the indictment, in which he stands charged with six felonies, including conspiracy in the second degree.
He was picked up while attempting to board a plane at Kennedy Airport on Aug. 14 with $20,000 in cash. The assistant D.A. said his office corroborated that the money was to re-supply his organization. His role in the drug conspiracy was to arrange for the shipment of cocaine and oxycodone, according to the D.A.'s office.
The 40-year-old made his first appearance in a courtroom since his arrest. After he was initially charged two weeks ago, he was taken to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, where he remained for over a week.
Christopher C. Brocato, a Central Islip attorney retained to represent Mr. Silva-Ruiz, said his client has "very serious health problems." He receives chemotherapy for leukemia and is on dialysis once a week. He told Justice Mazzei that his client is not a flight risk, has family in Suffolk County, and has worked in the area for 20 years. Even if he wanted to become a fugitive, his health conditions would preclude him from doing so, Mr. Brocato said while asking for more reasonable bail than the $750,000 cash or $1.5 million bond requested.
The judge disagreed and set bail at the amount the D.A.'s office requested.
The next defendant, William Crespo-Duran, who is 35, "identified himself as a pivotal member" of the organization, Mr. Nash said during his arraignment. When a search warrant was executed at a house on Gates Avenue in Montauk on Aug. 15, police found 200 grams of cocaine in a compartment in the floor under his bed, the assistant D.A. said. They also found $18,000 in cash and a scale among his personal possessions.
Mr. Crespo-Duran, known as Flaco, is facing eight and a third to 25 years on the conspiracy charge alone, Mr. Nash said, although he is also charged with two other felonies and a misdemeanor.
He has no prior record and strong ties to Puerto Rico, said Mr. Nash in requesting $750,000 cash or $1.5 million bond. Robert Coyle, his Sag Harbor attorney, did not make a bail request, but reserved the right to do so in the future.
Antonio Ramirez-Gonzalez, 30, and Gilberto Quintana-Crespo, 32, were both charged solely with conspiracy in the second degree, and both pleaded not guilty. Neither has a criminal record.
Mr. Ramirez-Gonzalez, known as Tete, "solidified himself to be a gatekeeper of sorts of ill-gotten proceeds" in the drug conspiracy, Mr. Nash said. When police searched his room on West Lake Drive, they found $30,000 in cash bundled. No narcotics were recovered, but Mr. Nash said that electronic surveillance through a pole camera showed "heavy foot traffic in and out of his room" in the course of the investigation.
His bail was set at $750,000 cash or $1.5 million bond.
Mr. Quintana-Crespo, known as Jimmy, was described as a "key member of the narcotics distribution organization" who directed customers to the person to see to buy narcotics, Mr. Nash said, adding that his cellphone was a target of the investigation. He also "secured packages" at the United States Post Office, which was used to ship cocaine and oxycodone into Montauk.
He was the only defendant not represented by a privately retained attorney. Melissa Kanas of the Legal Aid Society called her client "indigent" and said he had "less exposure" than his co-defendants and no reason to flee. She said that while the assistant district attorney had said he is facing eight and third to 25 years on the high end, he could be looking at as little as one to three years on the low end.
Even so, the judge set bail at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond, as requested.
A sixth man, Eric Mendez, 38, will be arraigned at a later date, as he posted bail following his initial arrest.
A seventh man, Angel DeJesus-Rodriguez, 30, of Montauk was indicted on four charges. There is a warrant out for his arrest.
All of the defendants are due back in court on Sept. 26. Before any of them make bail, bail source hearings will be held.