CANTON — A second phase in the ongoing, cross-jurisdictional drug trafficking investigation code-named “Operation Drop” was conducted Monday throughout St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, resulting in 13 additional arrests of north country residents alleged to have facilitated area distribution of narcotics.
An 80-count county grand jury indictment against 44 people, including the 18 people initially arrested in May, was filed July 31 and unsealed in St. Lawrence County Court on Monday as part of Operation Drop. The 13 individuals arrested early Monday morning are in custody, and 24 additional people are still at large at the time of this report, according to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.
Since November 2019, Operation Drop has involved the coordinated resources and personnel of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, the St. Lawrence and Jefferson county sheriff’s offices, drug task forces and district attorney’s offices, U.S. Border Patrol and the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, state police, local police departments, New York National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the U.S. Postal Service.
“We know that drug trafficking organizations and criminal street gangs continue their illicit activities despite the current health crisis around the country,” Kevin M. Kelly, special agent in charge of the Buffalo Field Office of HSI, said during a news conference Monday afternoon. “It’s clear that these gangs and criminal organizations take no days off, and neither do we.”
The joint investigation has employed covert surveillance aimed at rooting out heroin, fentanyl and cocaine dealers operating in St. Lawrence County and surrounding areas, as well as New Jersey-area traffickers, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe said.
Phase one arrests were made over the early morning hours of May 6, with investigators focused on filing major trafficking charges against New Jersey residents after executing eight search warrants simultaneously at different locations: two in Potsdam, two in Massena, one in Gouverneur, two in Ogdensburg and one in Watertown.
Nine of the 18 arrested in May are residents of New Jersey and believed to be affiliated with a Jersey City criminal organization, ST8 Drop, known to traffick crack cocaine, powder cocaine and heroine laced with fentanyl, and linked to members of the New Jersey Bloods. Seven of those New Jersey defendants were charged as major traffickers and are being held without bail in St. Lawrence County jail, Canton.
Phase two, Mr. Bigwarfe said, has focused more heavily on local residents allegedly facilitating out-of-state trafficking activity in the north country.
Included in the 80-count indictment are the 18 individuals arrested in May, as well as Delton Weller, 37, Massachusetts; Diamond Debarros, 20, New Jersey; and Llajesli Santiago, 23, New York City.
In varying degrees, the indictment charges 22 Northern New Yorkers with conspiracy, criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal sale, criminal nuisance or some combination of those charges, all related to alleged ST8 Drop activity in the north country from as early as November 2019.
The indictment charges Massena residents Jessica Castle, 39; Matthew Douillet, 27; Dahtez Jones, 36; Rauchelle Laporte, 27; John Paul Maxwell, 32; Jordan Page, 26; Tori Paquin, 39; James Plourde, 27; Samuel Pruner, 42; Devin Riley, 25; Adriannah Sirles, 22; Corbey Terrance, 29; and Tia Thompson, 23, as well as Bradley Brooks, 36, Gouverneur; Pamela Cole, 39, Ogdensburg; Lester McGaw, 43, Ogdensburg; Brittany Miller, 28, Watertown; Matthew Parker, 33, Parishville; Jeremy Pitts, 25, Potsdam; Chad Wickwire, 36, Norfolk; Elizabeth Wickwire, 32, Norfolk; and Sean Young, 26, Ogdensburg.
According to the sheriff’s office, the May 6 and subsequent searches have recovered a total of six pounds, 12 ounces of cocaine, with an estimated street value of more than $350,000; 279 grams of fentanyl, valued at about $56,000; 1,657 bags of heroin and 1,080 bags of fentanyl, all pre-packaged for distribution and valued at about $42,000; and $80,400 in U.S. currency.
Bringing a “global investigative perspective” to the case, Mr. Kelly said, broader involvement is being addressed by HSI personnel in Newark, with other federal and international government partners exploring narcotics production sources in other countries.
“As investigators, we’re trained to push that investigation out, push it out of St. Lawrence County, out of the U.S. if need be,” Mr. Kelly said.
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary M. Pasqua affirmed his office’s dedication to prosecuting individuals believed to be trafficking illicit drugs into the area and facilitating their distribution, and added that a simultaneous effort to address the “demand that has brought them to St. Lawrence County” is essential.
“The only way we are going to truly eradicate the issue is by prosecuting those bringing the narcotics here and making sure no one steps up to fill that void because there are still individuals looking for a supply,” Mr Pasqua said, adding that addiction services for those in need are vital to communities, too. “If we’re able to do that, we can fight this at both ends.”
Local, state and federal investigative partners, Mr. Kelly said, will continue an “aggressive pursuit of these criminals.”
“Today we celebrate hard work,” St. Lawrence County Undersheriff Sean P. O’Brien said. “Tomorrow, we’re back at it again.”