Drug arrests have decreased in recent years, resulting in a reduction in both the number of felony drug prosecutions and the percentage of our caseload that these cases comprise. In 1996 drug cases accounted for more than 65% of the Office’s felony-level defendants. In 2006, fewer than half of Bronx felony defendants were prosecuted on drug charges. Nevertheless, drug crime is still a very serious problem in the Bronx.
Over the past 17 years combined, 58% of Bronx defendants convicted on felony drug charges were sentenced to state prison, a higher proportion than that for either New York State (53%) or the rest of New York City (52%). Fifty-eight percent of Bronx defendants convicted on felony drug charges were sentenced to state prison in 2006.
The District Attorney employs a number of strategies to reduce drug crime in the Bronx. A combination of vigorous prosecution of defendants who have been accused of drug crimes, civil enforcement remedies and allowing appropriate defendants to enter drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration helps to ensure that justice is done. As in other parts of the City and nation, drug crime constitutes a persistent problem in Bronx County. Through careful screening of defendants' criminal history and drug use, the Office seeks to identify defendants who might benefit from drug treatment and become assets to their community.
Case: Operation Good Neighbor
Because local residents expressed concern over drug-dealing activity in the 46th Precinct, in May 2003, detectives from the New York City Police Department's Bronx Narcotics began a long-term undercover narcotics investigation. The operation ran through November 2003 and was nicknamed "Operation Good Neighbor." The operation involved the use of several undercover officers who purchased crack/cocaine, heroin and marijuana on over 50 occasions from a total of 27 dealers, many of whom operated as "drug crews."
One of the dealers caught in the operation was 19-year-old Jose Santana. He was involved in 10 sales of crack/cocaine to an undercover officer. The officer purchased $100 worth of crack/cocaine directly from Santana or one of his "crew" members. These sales all took place within 1,000 feet of a local elementary school on Mt. Hope Place.
New York State law provides enhanced penalties for those who sell drugs within 1,000 feet of school grounds. In November 2003, twenty-three drug dealers were arrested, including Santana and two juveniles. All of the drug dealers arrested in the operation were convicted, and an additional subject is currently in federal custody.
Following a two-week jury trial in Bronx Supreme Court, Santana was convicted of five counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance on or near school grounds. On February 23, 2006, he was sentenced to five concurrent terms of 10-20 years incarceration.
Despite his youth, Santana has a considerable criminal record. In addition to this case, Santana has two felony convictions and four misdemeanor convictions He was first arrested in August 1998, four months before his 16th birthday, for committing a violent robbery against a 58-year-old victim. In addition, Santana was arrested twice while in jail for promoting prison contraband and assault.
Case: Multiple Defendants Committing Multiple Crimes in Multiple Jurisdictions
A partnership among law enforcement agencies successfully ended a drug dealing operation. In this case at least 21 individuals worked together to bring drugs from Arizona and Puerto Rico to the Bronx for distribution in New York and Delaware. The Bronx County District Attorney's Office spearheaded the multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency investigation and prosecution of the cocaine, heroin, and marijuana distribution ring centered in and around Bronx County. This 18-month investigation was conducted primarily by Bronx assistant district attorneys and the Bronx County District Attorney's Office Detective Squad. The New York Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration was also instrumental in the investigation. This drug ring imported kilos of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Arizona and Puerto Rico to the Bronx, and then distributed the drugs within New York State and Delaware.
The investigation culminated in the Spring of 2006 when a Bronx County Supreme Court Justice issued multiple warrants authorizing the interception of calls on 10 cellular telephones used by the drug gang. This phase of the investigation lasted more than three months, during which more that 10,000 telephone calls were intercepted and monitored. This telephonic evidence directly led to the seizure of three kilos of cocaine, more than 300 grams of heroin, more than 10 pounds of marijuana, and one handgun. Also as a result, the New York City Police Department apprehended in Phoenix, Arizona an associate of the drug gang who was wanted for murder in Manhattan.
A Bronx County grand jury issued multiple indictments charging a total of 21 men and women with conspiracy on the second degree and other related charges. Eighteen of the 21 defendants have been apprehended, including all of the alleged ring leaders. Many of the defendants had previously been convicted of felonies in New York State.
Although the alleged leaders of the organization are awaiting trial, ten members of the organization with supporting roles have pleaded guilty.
- Ramon Arroyo, 26, attempted conspiracy on the second degree, sentenced to three-to-six years in prison.
- Luis Aponte, 30, conspiracy in the second degree, sentenced to five years probation.
- William Mejia, 32, conspiracy in the fourth degree, sentence pending.
- Melquisdec Carrero, 31, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, sentenced to 42 months in prison.
- Julio Cintron, 31, Conspiracy in the forth degree, sentenced to 18 months-to-three years in prison.
- Farrah Rodrigues, 27, attempted conspiracy in the second degree, sentenced to a conditional discharge.
- Myra Fuentes, 33, attempted conspiracy in the second degree, sentenced to five years probation.
- Gilberto Mantilla, 32, conspiracy in the second degree and criminal sale of a controlled substance in the second degree, sentence is pending.
- Luis Rivera, 46, conspiracy in the second degree, sentence is pending.
- Rey Rodriguez, 34, attempted conspiracy in the second degree, sentenced to three-to-six years incarceration.
The Bronx District Attorney's Office continues to work with the DEA in New York and Delaware and the Delaware State Police to enhance this investigation and prosecution further. The Pinal County Attorney in Arizona supplemented our prosecution by indicting a defendant for money laundering after he was found with another co-defendant in possession of $250,000 cash on March 8, 2006.
New York State law provides enhanced penalties for those who sell drugs within 1,000 feet of school grounds, and the Bronx District Attorney continues to focus special attention on these cases. In 2006, Narcotics Bureau staff screened 1,056 felony school drug arrests for presentation to a grand jury for indictment. Of these, 122 defendants agreed to be prosecuted by superior court information instead of indictment. Another 401 were indicted by a grand jury.
Of 707 school case dispositions in 2006, the bureau obtained 451 felony convictions by plea and four by verdict, resulting in an 82% felony conviction rate. Only 33 defendants (5%) were acquitted or had charges against them dismissed. Six defendants died before their cases were disposed. Twenty-three convictions were replaced with Youthful Offender adjudications because of the age of the defendants and their history. (For defendants younger than 19, Youthful Offender status allows the court to impose a more favorable sentence than would otherwise be allowed and avoids the stigma of a criminal conviction.)
Since 1992, the District Attorney has offered certain substance-abusing defendants who have been charged with narcotics offenses the opportunity to enter alternative-to-incarceration drug treatment programs. The first population to be offered this option in the Bronx was 16- to-19-year-old, first felony drug abusers. However, over the years the option has been offered to older offenders and those with a prior, non-violent felony conviction.
While the treatment options and alternative dispositions and sentences vary with the defendant’s age and prior record, the process is similar for all defendants considered for drug treatment as an alternative. Each candidate for diversion undergoes a thorough screening and evaluation to determine whether he or she is eligible for a drug treatment program. Factors considered in the evaluation include the defendant’s age, criminal record, history of substance abuse and suitability for rehabilitation.
Although not all drug abusers are successful in treatment, for some the opportunity to enter drug treatment makes the difference between a life lost to drugs and illegal activity, and a productive life and job.
|*Note: Drug Treatment Alternatives to Prison (DTAP) is for predicate felony (second and later) offenders. Extended Willard Drug Treatment is also for predicate felony offenders and is operated ny the New York State Department of Correctional Services in conjunction with the Division of Parole. "Other Residential" includes first-time offenders placed in residential programs. "Other" includes residential and outpatient programs for first-time and predicate defendants.
The individual’s substance abuse history, age and other factors determine the type of treatment and its duration. His or her criminal history affects the case outcome following either successful completion of treatment (leading to dismissal or reduction of the charges) or failure to complete treatment, resulting in a prison sentence. A total of 1,159 Bronx defendants entered drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration in 2006, and close to 11,000 defendants have been placed in drug treatment programs since 1992.
Bronx prosecutors have had substantial success in placing drug offenders in treatment programs. Between 1993 and 2006, nearly 11,000 Bronx defendants were placed in drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. While the Office’s initial experiment with ATI drug treatment focused on first-time offenders, treatment is also appropriate for some second felony offenders. In late 1995 through the TASC program, this Office began placing offenders with prior non-violent felony convictions in alternative to incarceration programs and first received DTAP funding in 1998. From 1998 through 2006, the Office placed 2,518 defendants in drug treatment through DTAP. The DTAP model involves: (1) Identification of drug-involved offenders; (2) assessment of the offender’s drug and alcohol treatment needs; (3) referral to appropriate treatment; and (4) continuous case management.
Bronx participants in the DTAP program are required to plead guilty to a class B felony. If they complete the program, their felony plea is set aside, and they are permitted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. However, those who withdraw or fail to complete the program satisfactorily receive a sentence of three and one-half years in prison. In addition, this past year more than 900 Bronx defendants who were not eligible for DTAP were diverted through other treatment programs.
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office has been diverting defendants to drug treatment for many years and developed formal partnerships to do so in October 1992. Over time it became clear that some of these defendants were suffering from both drug dependency and mental illness. While staff always tried to place such non-violent defendants in treatment programs that were appropriate for persons with dual diagnoses, in 2002 we entered into a formal partnership with Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC) and Research Triangle Institute to create the Bronx Mental Health Court. As the grantee, this Office administers the grants and sub-grants, monitors compliance with the terms of grants and with sub-grantees’ letters of agreement, has fiscal responsibility, and provides staff to work in the court part.
In 2003, eligibility for diversion to the Bronx Mental Health Court was extended to defendants with serious mental illness (with or without drug dependency). In 2004, the court’s capacity was further expanded to provide services for mentally ill defendants with HIV/AIDS. Using federal funds to provide mental health and drug dependence screening and assessment, placement and program evaluation, we recommended 156 defendants for placement in 2006. These defendants are subject to the same level of supervision and sanctions for failure to complete treatment as other diverted defendants.
In 2006 the US Department of Justice designated the Bronx Mental Health Court a national model for treatment alternatives to incarceration for defendants with serious mental illness. As one of just five national “learning sites,” the Bronx Mental Health Court provides other jurisdictions with an opportunity to observe and study all aspects involved in the successful and sustained operation of the court. Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said: “We join with our partners in this effort because of the importance that we place on treating certain mental and medical conditions that may be contributing factors in the criminal conduct of some individuals. Our objective in this approach is to make life better for the entire community including the afflicted defendants who come before the court. This designation as a ‘learning site’ will enable us to show how our collaborative efforts have made a difference here and thereby help other communities develop solutions to help themselves."
Case: A Mental Health Court Success Story
At the request of the District Attorney's Office, on May 1, 2004, the Court referred Janet (pseudonym) to the Bronx Mental Health Court. Based on its assessment, the Bronx TASC Mental Health Unit determined mental health treatment with drug counseling would be in Janet's best interests, with a view toward returning her to society as a contributing member. Janet, 41, pleaded guilty on June 14, 2004, to criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. She was told she would receive a prison sentence of 4 1/2-to-9 years if she did not remain successfully in treatment.
Janet reported a "lonely" childhood even though she had three siblings. She often witnessed her father's frequent physical and emotional abuse of her mother. It was not until later in Janet's treatment that she was able to admit that she was physically abused by her father. She remembers running away from home at age 11 only to be brought back by the police the next day. At the age of 14, she hitchhiked cross-country to California. She supported herself in California by working at fast food restaurants and stealing food. She was eventually located by the police and returned home.
Janet reports doing well in school, although she recalls "fighting all the time, I just didn't fit in." She dropped out of school in 10th grade, but later earned a GED. Janet says her alcohol use started around the age of eight, and slowly progressed to daily drinking. At 13, she began using marijuana and at 18 graduated to cocaine. At 21, she began freebasing. By the time she was 30 years old, Janet was using crack on a daily basis.
As Janet's drug use grew, so did her rap sheet. Her first arrest was at the age of 17. All of Janet's 23 arrests occurred in the context of drug dependency. Five of the arrests were felonies and one resulted in state prison time. Her many misdemeanors caused her to return to Rikers Island "like I was going through a revolving door."
Janet remembers hearing voices at eight years old. Often the "whispers would tell me good and bad things." She had episodes where "I can't slow down, can't sleep, can't think." Her depression would last for months, and she would become suicidal. At 16, Janet slashed her wrists in one of many suicide attempts. She says she was hospitalized "at least 50 times." As a result she has been on various antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers. At the time of her referral to the Bronx Mental Health Court, Janet had a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.
On October 6, 2004, Janet was admitted to Harbor House, a Bronx residential program for mental illness and chemical abuse (MICA). Janet initially had difficulty settling into the routine of her schedule. On January 1, 2005, Janet left the program against clinical advice after a relapse. A few days later, Janet contacted the TASC office to talk about the relapse and her treatment. Harbor House expressed a desire to continue working with Janet. When Janet received this information, she responded, "That's it. No one has ever wanted to do anything with me. The expect so much from me. I don't know what to do with that." Janet received a brief remand to jail and returned to Harbor House to continue treatment.
Upon returning to treatment, Janet complied with her group schedule and increased her individual sessions with her primary counselor. She completed two program certificates: HIV Counseling and Substance Abuse Training. She learned basic computer skills. As a result of her MICA intern training, Janet has co-facilitated Double Trouble Groups at Harbor House.
In March 2006, Janet completed residential treatment and moved to an apartment in the Bronx. She continues outpatient services with Argus Community and has has signed up for classes to complete a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) certificate. With help from vocational counselors, Janet completed a resume and is looking for work as a peer specialist in the substance abuse field.
Reflecting on her treatment at Harbor House, Janet believes that a major catalyst for the positive changes in her life was "the fact they wanted me back, you wanted me back. No one ever did that before." On April 20, 2006, Janet's charge was reduced to an A misdemeanor and she was sentenced to time served.
In addition to criminal prosecution of drug offenses and diversion of appropriate offenders to drug treatment programs, the District Attorney successfully uses other approaches as adjuncts to prosecution. These include civil enforcement proceedings and prevention programs. Two civil enforcement methods used by this Office are asset forfeiture and eviction. Asset forfeiture deprives drug dealers and illegal gamblers of profits made through criminal enterprise, and evicting them (or those who house them) removes their base of operation.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit works with the Office’s Narcotics and Investigations Bureaus, US Customs, the FBI, the DEA, the Department of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, and the NYPD’s Forfeiture Unit to ensure that drug offenders do not profit from their activity. The unit conducts investigations aimed at exposing criminal enterprises and tracing revenue flow into and out of these operations. These investigations can produce evidence incriminating higher-level suppliers and financiers and identify income and property derived through criminal activity. Both federal and state statutes allow for confiscation of such assets.
In 2006, the unit seized $812,270 in assets pursuant to Article 13-A of New York State Civil Practice Laws and Rules. According to New York State law, a major share of forfeited assets must be distributed to the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) for drug treatment, education and prevention programs. In 2006, the Office contributed $260,322 to OASAS, bringing our total OASAS contribution over the past 18 years to $4,713,812. The Bronx District Attorney’s Office received $242,812 as its share of state forfeited assets. The NYPD’s portion of the forfeited funds totaled $308,970.
When state law does not provide a legal basis for forfeiture or federal law would make forfeiture easier, the case is referred to a federal agency to initiate forfeiture proceedings. In 2006, the unit referred 45 cases to various federal agencies for forfeiture action. Cases referred for federal forfeiture earned the Office $173,009 in 2006.
In addition to referring cases to federal agencies on an “as needed” basis, the Asset Forfeiture Unit is a member of an ongoing effort known as the Eldorado Task Force. The other members of the task force are the NYPD, US Customs, the Offices of the District Attorneys in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, the Internal Revenue Service and the New York State Banking Commission. The task force’s main focus is to investigate drug dealers who attempt to launder drug money.
Cases are generated through informants providing information about drug dealers to one or another of the member agencies. In addition, the task force investigates known drug dealers to determine where and how they are transporting money. Once someone has been arrested, his or her assets are seized and forfeiture proceedings are initiated. In 2006, a total of some $6,360,275 was seized in non-monetary assets as the result of investigations conducted by the task force.
The Narcotics Evictions Unit initiates civil actions to remove tenants who are involved in the narcotics trade or who allow others to use their premises for illegal activities. This civil action is complementary to the Narcotics Bureau’s criminal action and proceeds independently of the criminal case. Evicting offenders deprives them of the site from which they conducted their criminal activity and thus improves the quality of life in the community. Even when criminal prosecution of a drug dealer fails to result in a conviction, evidence obtained through search warrants in a narcotics investigation can still be used appropriately to justify an eviction request in Housing Court.
All narcotics cases are reviewed by the Narcotics Evictions Unit to determine whether they meet the criteria for eviction. Once it is shown that eviction from a privately-owned building is warranted, the Unit sends a Demand Letter informing the landlord that criminal activity is occurring in a particular apartment. The landlord must then take action in court to evict the appropriate tenant(s).
The Narcotics Evictions Unit assists landlords in these court actions by advising them on matters of procedure and providing evidence and witnesses to substantiate the charges that led to the request for an order of eviction. The Demand Letter is usually effective in eliciting the cooperation of landlords who might be apprehensive about initiating such proceedings on their own.
The District Attorney’s Office also identifies apartment units in New York City Housing Authority developments that are used to store or dispense narcotics and continues to investigate individuals carrying out narcotics activity. The Housing Authority’s attorneys then litigate their own eviction actions.
The Unit continues to work closely with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the NYPD Legal Bureau’s Civil Enforcement Unit to assist in the identification of premises that are a source of narcotics activity. The Narcotics Eviction Unit also works with community groups and tenants associations to rid these premises of narcotics activity, enabling law-abiding citizens to live in a drug-free environment.
In 2006, there were 160 drug locations closed by the Unit. Of these, 55 were closed through eviction action taken against the tenant. In 58 cases, the tenant vacated the dwelling voluntarily. In the remaining 47 instances, the tenant was allowed to remain upon his or her stipulation to the court that the offending party would be permanently excluded from the premises and that the illegal activity would cease.