Bust Targets Major Montauk Narcotics Ring

17 arrested; coke, pills, and $100K cash seized
Gilberto Quintana-Crespo, in front, was among the many defendants led into East Hampton Town Justice Court last Thursday to be arraigned on charges related to the takedown of what investigators said was the “largest narcotics distribution ring in and around Montauk.” Carissa Katz

The Suffolk County District Attorney was working this week to indict members of an alleged drug ring that had hundreds of buyers and moved “kilogram quantities of cocaine and thousands of pills” in the Montauk area during a months-long investigation by the D.A.’s East End Drug Task Force and other agencies.

The arrests of 17 people on Aug. 15 “struck at the heart of the drug supply in Montauk,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini said during a press conference last Thursday. “There are going to be a lot of people very upset this weekend.”

The defendants, most of whom worked as barbacks and line cooks at Montauk establishments, sold cocaine and pills, such as oxycodone, to patrons and others, all while living in housing provided by the restaurants and bars that employed them. Establishments specifically mentioned by the D.A.’s office were Swallow East, 668 the Gig Shack, Shagwong Tavern, Liar’s Saloon, and O’Murphy’s Pub and Restaurant, though defendants said in open court last Thursday that they also worked at the Surf Lodge and Sloppy Tuna, among others.

“In some cases they would literally be selling drugs out the back door of the kitchen,” Mr. Sini said.

“What this drug crew did was take advantage of the tourism and the commercial activity that was going on in the Montauk area. We all know that the population of the East End, particularly Montauk, increases dramatically in the summer months,” Mr. Sini said.

The defendants sold drugs at twice the market value or more, he said, selling a gram of cocaine for $100 and a single oxycodone pill for $40. “You can probably score a bag, a gram of cocaine, in Babylon for $40; Washington Heights for $30. We’re talking about a significant mark-up.”

They had “a very lucrative business,” profiting $150,000 per kilo of cocaine, Mr. Sini said. All the while, they continued to work in the restaurants, grow their clientele, and keep the housing that was provided to them.

The investigation, which began in March, included a wiretap more recently. The defendants received packages by mail containing drugs sent from other parts of the country and outside the United States, according to the district attorney.

The United States Postal Inspection ervice intercepted one package with $17,400 in cash inside. Another package with oxycodone, Roxicodone, and Xanax pills — addressed to one of the locations the defendants were living at in Montauk — was also seized. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration was also involved. 

The investigation culminated on the morning of Aug. 15 when police executed search warrants at five locations in Montauk connected to the alleged distribution ring. The raids led to the seizure of $100,000 in cash and 650 grams of cocaine, Mr. Sini said. Police also found assorted pills, a kilo presser, cutting agents, cellphones, and packaging materials, as well as a drug ledger outlining monies received and the identities of the sellers.

Five alleged ringleaders are being held at the Suffolk County jail in Riverside pending a full indictment. 

Three of them, Geraldo Vargas-Munoz, a 37-year-old known as Chelo, Elvin Silva-Ruiz, 40, who goes by Pito, and William Crespo-Duran, 35, whose nickname is Flaco, are all being held without bail because they are charged with top-level felonies for alleged drug possession. Mr. Vargas-Munoz and Mr. Silva-Ruiz were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, the highest drug charge there is, and Mr. Crespo-Duran was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the second degree. Mr. Sini said they would also be charged with conspiracy once indicted.

According to the D.A., Mr. Vargas-Munoz’s part in the drug conspiracy was to arrange for the transportation of narcotics into Suffolk County, sell drugs, and supply other drug dealers over the course of years. He said drugs were sold at the restaurants and motels where the defendants worked and lived.

Mr. Vargas-Munoz and Mr. Silva-Ruiz were arrested in Queens County, the D.A. said. Mr. Ruiz was taken into custody at Kennedy Airport, as he was readying to board an international flight. Mr. Sini declined to say where he was headed, but noted he had $10,000 in cash on him and another $7,000 in his luggage. 

At his arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court last Thursday, his attorney, Robert Coyle, said he was in his second season working as a cook at Swallow East on the Montauk Docks. In the off-season, he said he went back and forth between New York and Puerto Rico. 

Mr. Silva-Ruiz, who worked at O’Murphy’s Pub in Montauk, also had $10,000 when apprehended; he was allegedly meeting another person to transport the money out of state, the D.A. said. He was missing from the group brought into court last Thursday; he had been taken to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital with chest pains earlier that day. He was arraigned at his bedside later by Southampton Village Justice Barbara Wilson, and held without bail. He was still hospitalized as of yesterday. 

During the Thursday afternoon arraignments in East Hampton Town Justice Court, Brad Magill, an assistant district attorney, referred to Antonio Ramirez-Gonzalez as the “gatekeeper of the ill-gotten proceeds of the largest narcotics distribution ring in and around Montauk.” At his residence on West Lake Drive, investigators allegedly found $26,000 in cash, clearly marked and bundled in different denominations, as well as narcotics. He was charged with conspiracy in the second degree. 

The 30-year-old, also known as Tete, told Justice Lisa R. Rana, who presided over the arraignments, that he worked in the kitchen at the Surf Lodge hotel and restaurant as a dishwasher.

The D.A.’s office requested $500,000 cash bail and $1 million bond, claiming Mr. Ramirez-Gonzalez was a flight risk. Justice Rana said the figure seemed a bit excessive, and set bail at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond. 

The fifth man in the custody of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office is Gilberto Quintana-Crespo, whom Mr. Magill called a “key member” of the narcotics distribution ring who had a role in securing postal packages containing narcotics. The 32-year-old, known as Jimmy, was also charged with conspiracy in the second degree. 

His Legal Aid attorney, Matthew D’Amato, told the court that he was working as a cook at Swallow East, but had worked elsewhere in East Hampton and Montauk for six previous summers. 

The district attorney’s office asked for $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond, which Mr. D’Amato called “outrageous.” “The people are using terms like ‘key member of an organization.’ However, he doesn’t even have enough money for an attorney,” he told the court. Bail was set at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond. 

“This has been an extremely in-depth and multi-faceted investigation into a major narcotics distribution ring, which originated from very professional and industrious patrol and detective work by members of the East Hampton Town Police Department,” Chief Michael Sarlo said yesterday. He thanked all of the outside agencies that brought the case together. “The community of Montauk and Town of East Hampton are a safer place today,” he said.

While those arrested on Aug. 15 may have taken advantage of the summer season, Mr. Sini said it was evident that “the illicit activity plagued the year-round residents.”

“This is not a new problem,” he said, noting that year-round residents have been voicing concerns about drug dealing in the community for years.

During the investigation, when their cash was seized and the accused were unable to purchase drugs to sell in Montauk, “the phones lit up,” Mr. Sini said. Customers were getting “dope sick” because they couldn’t get their supply, he claimed. “So there is no doubt that part of this is selling cocaine to party-goers, but with that, is the sale of opioids to people who suffer from severe addictions.”

Buyers were not the target of this investigation, and none were arrested, the D.A. said.

Asked if the arrests could be tied to any overdoses in the area, Mr. Sini said they could not, but did not rule that out.

The D.A. said that between 2013 and 2018 the number of arrests for criminal possession of a controlled substance in Montauk increased 337 percent. He attributed the dramatic increase to excellent police work by the East Hampton Town Police Department, but also to the increased drug dealing going on.

“The tourism industry, and by extension the service industry, are certainly critical to Suffolk County’s economy,” he said. “We will not tolerate individuals who traffic drugs into our communities, target the tourists and residents in these world-class destinations, and use the guise of customer service to flood our communities with drugs. We will certainly not tolerate any commercial establishments that facilitate or even condone those activities by their employees.”

All the defendants have Montauk addresses and are U.S. citizens, according to the D.A.’s office. None are prior felons, he said. Some have had minimal contact with the criminal justice system, with some exceptions.

John DeMelio, 32, was charged with conspiracy in the second degree. He was already facing drug charges in East Hampton Town Justice Court. Just three days before the drug bust, on Aug. 12, he was arrested on two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, a misdemeanor. 

He allegedly had eight small bags containing a white powder that later tested positive for cocaine. Police said he also had six round blue pills marked “K9,” later identified as oxycodone. The drugs were reportedly found in a 2014 Volkswagen on Flamingo Avenue, near Fleming Road, in Montauk at about 4 p.m. 

When Mr. DeMelio was brought into court last Thursday, he was arraigned on the charges from both Aug. 12 and Aug. 15. Rita Boniccelli, who represented him for arraignment, pointed out that he had no criminal history. After reviewing court documents from the D.A.’s office, she questioned how her client — who she said was a mate on a fishing boat — was connected to the overall conspiracy. She said there had been no arrest or search warrants and that officers were not given consent to come into his house, which is owned by his parents. 

Justice Rana set bail at $10,000 cash and $20,000 bond on the latest charges, and $1,000 cash or $2,000 bond on the Aug. 12 charges. His parents posted his bail, and he is due back in court on Sept. 27. 

 

Others arrested Wednesday were:

• Bryan Ruiz-Sanchez, 22, was charged with conspiracy in the second degree. Mr. Ruiz-Sanchez said he arrived in Montauk in late July from Puerto Rico and that he did a handful of jobs for Gurney’s Resort in Montauk. He was released on $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond. 

• Kevin Becker, 30, charged with conspiracy in the second degree. His attorney, Edward Burke Jr., said he works for his family’s business, and needed to get into a rehabilitation program at the Dunes in East Hampton. Bail was set at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond. 

• Eric Mendez, 38, charged with conspiracy in the second degree, described by the D.A.’s office as a “mid-level conspirator.” He told the court he worked at the Sloppy Tuna restaurant and bar in Montauk as a chef this year. He posted $10,000 cash bail. 

• Louis Madariaga-Medina, 31, was charged with two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. At arraignment, he said he lives in Spain the rest of the year and that he was working this summer at 668 the Gig Shack restaurant in Montauk. He was released on $500 bail.

• Israel Padilla-Rosas, 33, was charged with criminal possession of marijuana in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor. He said he worked as a dishwasher at the Gig Shack restaurant and bar in Montauk, and lives and works elsewhere in the winter, sometimes Puerto Rico. He posted $500 bail. 

• Thomas Harwood, 25, and Nawar Qanbar, 32, were each charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. Mr. Qanbar, who is from Colorado, said he worked at the Gig Shack as a cook, and was released on $250 bail. Mr. Harwood was released on an appearance ticket. 

• Alex Joel Tirado-Rivera, 32, and Bracklie Vargas-Gonzalez, 24, were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree and unlawful possession of marijuana. Both said they worked at the Surf Lodge. Both were released on $500 bail. 

• Gilbert Rodriguez-Mendez, 41, was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. He was released on an appearance ticket.

Also, the D.A.’s office said John Doherty Valentin, 29, was arrested last Thursday. He is charged with seven counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, a felony.

With Reporting by Carissa Katz

According to the district attorney, the job of Geraldo Vargas-Munoz, top left, was to arrange for the transportation of narcotics into Suffolk County, sell drugs, and supply other drug dealers. Top right, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini, flanked by investigators with the D.A.’s East End Drug Task Force, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, announced the arrests of 17 people involved in the alleged drug conspiracy. Police executed search warrants at five locations in Montauk on the morning of Aug. 15 and found cash, cocaine, pills, and packaging materials, below. Carissa Katz, Sheila Kelly, and Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Photos