WATERTOWN — At the end of a day that saw more than 50 indicted and thousands of dollars worth of drugs and cash seized, the city police chief and county sheriff had two things in common: It was the largest and most successful drug bust in their careers, and it was concerning that the majority of those arrested during the operation on Thursday were released hours later.

State, local and federal agencies had a command post set up at the Watertown International Airport by about 5:30 a.m. Thursday. Authorities called it “Operation Heat Wave” and it resulted in 54 people being indicted on charges of conspiring in three major drug trafficking rings that allegedly funneled heroin, fentanyl and cocaine into Jefferson County.

The command post was large and required medical professionals to be on scene and screening officers and defendants for COVID-19 as they came in. It was a collaborative effort between at least 10 agencies, including the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, city police, the Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force and state police.

Hard work pays off

Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neill holds a news conference Nov. 12 on Operation Heat Wave, which resulted in the arrest of numerous individuals for trafficking narcotics to Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Officers were separated into teams and given a packet with a warrant inside for a person to go arrest. The operation took hours and resulted in 30 arrests.

At about 4 p.m., members of the sheriff’s office, city police department and state police gathered on the second floor of the Metro-Jeff Public Safety Building for a press conference.

Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neill spoke first, saying the investigation began in spring 2019 and resulted after a number of tips came into the drug task force, which then were passed over to the state attorney general’s office.

“Once this started,” she said, “there were no vacations, there were no days off, and there was a lot of missed family time for these investigators and detectives from the agencies that were involved, so their commitment is really remarkable.”

Of the 30 arrested on Thursday, seven were held in jail, three were remanded to pre-trial supervision and 20 were released on their own recognizance.

“They went right back out on the streets or to their houses,” she said, “so that doesn’t make anyone in law enforcement happy.”

But the end result was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, drug busts in her 34-year career in law enforcement, she said.

“I can’t imagine it having gone any smoother as far as the cooperation and collaborative effort of all the law enforcement agencies involved,” she said.

Members of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Watertown city police and state police gather inside the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building in Watertown on Thursday after 54 people were arrested in connection with drugs. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

She said this started as a cocaine investigation, but investigators were then led to heroin and fentanyl. Between the three drug rings so far, officers seized roughly 850 bags of fentanyl-laced heroin, 65 bags of heroin — which could amount to 650 bags worth roughly $15,500 — and nearly three kilograms of cocaine, worth more than $300,000. It’s not over; there are still suspects with outstanding warrants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Puerto Rico.

“Even the drug dealers who have not met with us today, they can rest assured that for the next weeks and months, this investigation isn’t over,” she said. “If they didn’t get arrested today, they shouldn’t be really resting easy because it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Police Chief Charles P. Donoghue spoke next, touching on the historic nature of the operation. He stressed that, of the 30 arrests made in a day, there were no instances of resisting from defendants or force used by officers.

“That’s the way we always want it, contrary to what you may see sometimes on news coverage,” he said. “We are always trying to take people into custody with as little resistance or use of force as possible, so in that respect we were very successful today.”

He, too, was concerned that two-thirds of those arrested were later released. The seven who were held in jail were likely because they were on probation or parole, had violent criminal histories or there were other warrants out on them. But for those who were released, even if they were charged with a felony, which all of them were, the judge doesn’t have the option to place bail, Mr. Donoghue said.

“There is nothing saying that any of those who were released aren’t out dealing drugs right this minute,” he said. “Unfortunately, the judges are now restricted to only a very limited number of cases where they are even eligible to set bail.”

Wiretapping was involved later in the case, he said. A press release from the AG’s office reported that some defendants and their coconspirators frequently used coded and cryptic terminology in an attempt to disguise their illicit activities, such as referring to seven-gram narcotics transactions as “Michael Vick” or “Kevin Durant,” a reference to the two sports players’ jersey number. The chief said he didn’t have direct knowledge of those taps, but he said it wouldn’t be uncommon.

City Police Chief Charles P. “Chip” Donoghue addresses the media Thursday inside the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building in Watertown after 54 people were arrested in connection with drugs. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

No matter the judicial process, Mr. Donoghue said Thursday was the culmination of a lot of work from many agencies.

“A lot of these people are known to us prior,” he said, “but I have never in my career have ever been involved in anywhere near an operation like this, and I don’t know if something this size has ever happened in Jefferson County or not.”

In all, there were 54 indicted, and 30 were arrested on Thursday. Eight had already been arrested in the days prior. Those charged under the indictments are:

Jason Agosto, 36, Watertown

Ricardo Agosto, 43, Puerto Rico

Corey Aldrich, 29, Clayton

Timothy Alexander, 58, LaFargeville

Hector Rivera Arroyo, 32, New Jersey

Eunique Atkinson, 33, Watertown

Curtis Betances, 30, Watertown

Daniel Borg, 42, Watertown

Stephanie Bryan, 35, Evans Mills

Larry Butcher, 40, Watertown

William Carrigan, 69, Watertown

Chastity Collins, 41, Watertown

Gregory Cox, 33, Glen Park

Xavier Drayton, 32, Watertown

Kristina Finney, 27, Watertown

Robin Foley, 57, Watertown

Daniel Fraser, 45, Watertown

Antoine Gary, 47, Watertown

Tyree Gary, “Teek,” 28, Watertown

Darius Guillebeaux, “D Block,” 46, Watertown

Jarvis Hines, 37, Watertown

Nathaniel Killborn, 23, Clayton

Stanley Kims, 37, Watertown

Andrew Knowles, 32, Watertown

Phillip Lavalley, 42, Watertown

Casey Lehman, 41, Watertown

Jamal Lynch, 39, Calcium

Brittany Mallette, 29, Watertown

Colin Marshall, 28, Watertown

Ryan Martin, 34, Watertown

Kavon Mason, 32, Watertown

Carlos Matos, 39, Watertown

Arelyne Minier, 23, New York City

Jonna Murdock, 51, Evans Mills

Maxine Nunez, 30, Bronx

Adrian Paris, 32, Watertown

Raymond Perez, 29, Watertown

Amber Pitcher, 34, Rutland

Doreen Salerno, 46, Watertown

Ethan Sargent, 38, Watertown

Everette Saunders, 31, Watertown

Drew Schroy, 25, Watertown

Steven Seavolt, 49, Watertown

Curtney Smith, 30, Watertown

Troy Stewart, 43, Evans Mills

Andrew Stoby, 39, Watertown

Troy Thomas, “Harlem,” 41, Watertown

Jordan Torres, “City,” 29, Bronx

Jessica Tousley, 41, Watertown

Rashay Whitfield, 39, Watertown

Kevin Whitner, 42, Philadelphia, Penn.

James Williams, “Dizzy,” or “Diz,” 27, Utica

Christina Woodward, 41, New Jersey

Jeffrey Young, 44, Black River

This was an effort by the Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force, Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Watertown Police Department, St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, state police, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Border Patrol, United States Army, Criminal Investigations Division, U.S. Marshals Service, Syracuse Police Department and New York City Police Department.

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(2) comments

rdsouth

Good going. The community will be improved for a while until the drug consumers either move somewhere else for better prices or else until new dealers come in. But the concern about bail reform needs to be given a different perspective. Cash bail is just a way of separating the rich from the poor, providing for special treatment to the well heeled. Or those who, like drug dealers, have a lot of money. If these drug dealers don't have a lot of money this can't really be that big a catch and only, maybe, the ring leader would have been able to make bail. So some petty drug dealers who have been operating for many years will continue operating for a little longer. Then they'll either be convicted, acquitted, or fugitives. If they're out dealing drugs again maybe the case can be improved by busting them again. I'm sure they have the trust of their community and are doing particularly well without taking risks. And ultimately maybe drugs wouldn't be so lucrative if they weren't so illegal. Alcohol prohibition gave us Al Capone. Maybe it's a good idea letting people get their drugs at regulated clinics, like some states have recently decided to try. At some point we have to say, "We're not going to collectively suffer for your problem."

Eagle24

If all the overdose deaths weren't part of your suggestions...it might get more merit...the bail reform certainly needs another review... That said, we're obviously not winning the war on drugs... soft drugs are legal in many states... addiction leads to crime to support the habit.... and it's not just local, it's nationwide.. We haven't found the answer yet...

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