By Ted Waddell
SULLIVAN COUNTY September 29, 2000 Theres an old adage in enforcement circles that goes like this: You can run, but you cant hide.
For a three-day period beginning on Saturday, that old saying became reality for 34 people as a combined taskforce of village, county, state and federal law enforcement officers executed a series of no-knock search warrants.
A no-knock search warrant is issued after police convince a judge there is sufficient probable cause to believe that evidence (in this case, drugs) can be quickly destroyed by suspects, or there is reason to believe a suspect may be armed.
All but one of the suspects was arrested for a variety of drug-related offenses. One individual was picked up on an outstanding warrant from Middletown PD during a drug-related arrest.
The countywide drug roundup was the culmination of a four-month investigation.
It began when Michael Ward, chief of the Village of Liberty Police Department, got fed up with reports of street dealing, and contacted the Sullivan County District Attorneys Office, which requested assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In response, the DEA sent a Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) to the county. As their undercover investigation (code named Operation Liberty) progressed, the effort to take down local drug dealers expanded into neighboring jurisdictions.
Early Saturday afternoon, passing motorists witnessed a drug takedown along Route 17 near Livingston Manor, as numerous undercover DEA agents and Sullivan County Sheriffs Department uniformed deputies reportedly found drugs in a black Lincoln after a drug-sniffing dog from the K-9 unit detected the presence of controlled substances in the vehicle.
The multi-agency law enforcement action continued throughout the weekend and culminated Monday morning when officers arrested 19 individuals in the Village of Liberty for alleged multiple drug offenses. At approximately 6 a.m., a DEA helicopter circled overhead to provide an aerial view of the takedowns and offer assistance if suspects tried to flee the scene. The arrests were primarily made at two apartment complexes.
As the DEA, SCSD and DAs office developed the cases, the scope of the operation grew to include the towns of Fallsburg, Liberty, Thompson and Rockland.
The takedown operation was coordinated from a staging area located at a former resort. Involved law enforcement agencies included DEA MET teams out of White Plains; DEA Task Force out of White Plains; Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) from New York City; Sullivan County District Attorneys Office; Sullivan County Sheriffs Department; New York State Police: Liberty PD; Fallsburg PD; and the Monticello PD.
According to Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen, about 75 law enforcement officers participated in the multi-agency operation.
Lungen said the DEA spent approximately $22,000 for undercover drug purchases. As a result of the arrests, police seized two firearms (including a sawed-off shotgun from a convicted felon in Livingston Manor), substantial street sale-ready quantities of marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine and about $70,000 in cash.
Many of the defendants arrested were street dealers selling [drugs] throughout our community, said Lungen in a press release issued by the DAs office on Monday. Several defendants were substantial and higher-level drug dealers who are responsible for supplying street dealers and for importing the drugs from New York City and other areas into our county.
Several of these defendants were also responsible for selling drugs in and around some of our schools, and they were particularly targeted by our local police agencies, he added.
According to Lungen, DEA agents arrested several people in August at Greenstock in Bethel for felony possession of LSD as part of the four-month investigation.
Lungen said the scope of DEAs Operation Liberty immediately expanded because the same group of people just travel from place to place.
We needed to take care of the street dealers in the Village of Liberty . . . and we were [also] successful in taking out some of the mid-level players: those people who are responsible for supplying the street dealers and bringing the stuff up out of NYC, he added.
Im extremely pleased, said Lungen. It lets these people know that we mean business.
Sullivan County Sheriff Daniel Hogue said, Its always a good feeling to take out a bunch of people who are selling drugs in your community, especially the ones that are selling to young children.
Hogue praised the efforts of Deputy Jason Gorr.
He did an outstanding job, he said.
Gorr was one of the uniformed officers involved with Saturdays takedown along 17 outside Livingston Manor.
Im very pleased with the street sweeping operation and the takeouts, said Michael Ward, chief of the Liberty PD. Theres a sense of satisfaction learning that some of these players have been taken out.
Chief Ward was a member of a team that arrested two suspects based on good tactical information. He described an incident that will surely become part of his departments lore: while serving a warrant, one of his cops was bitten and scratched by a suspects cat when it was spooked by a K-9 dog.
We wanted to make a statement, added Ward. They might get away with it for a while, but somehow, someplace, were going to catch up with all of them.
According to Monticello Police Chief Michael Brennan, his departments active drug enforcement policy has chased a lot of dealers out of his jurisdiction into neighboring communities.
Its good to see them getting arrested, he said.
I am very pleased with the outstanding cooperation that was explemplified by all the involved agencies, said Brent Lawrence, chief of the Fallsburg PD. Everybody worked together to help us combat the drug problem here in the county.
Joseph Pentangelo is the public affairs officer/spokeperson at the DEA offices in NYC.
Mobile Enforcement Teams were established several years ago to respond to requests for assistance from local police chiefs or sheriffs, he said. They target leaders of domestic gangs that distribute drugs in local communities and are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes that are associated with their drug activities.
On Monday, 34 defendants were arraigned before Sullivan County Court Judge Frank J. LaBuda. Most of the defendants were charged with drug related 2nd and/or 3rd degree felonies. If convicted of the most serious charges (criminal sale of controlled substances), the defendants could be sentenced (depending upon their prior criminal history) to 8 1/2 years to life in state prison.
According to the Sullivan County DA, the narcotics investigation is continuing, and additional arrests are expected.
Those Arrested In Operation Liberty
A key to the charges: CSCS (criminal sale of controlled substance), CPCS (criminal possession of controlled substance), CSM (criminal sale of marijuana), CPM (criminal possession of marijuana) and CPW (criminal possession of a weapon). The number following the charge indicates the degree of the felony (as applicable).
Linda Bernstein of Liberty: CSCS 3 (3 counts).
Tremaine Berry of Liberty: CSCS 2 (2cts), CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Ricky Bolden of Liberty: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Erasmo Candelario of Fallsburg: CSCS 2 (3 cts), CSCS 3 (2cts).
Earl Coleman of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Terry Covington of Liberty: CSM (2 cts), CPM (1/2 lb).
Anthony Crum of Middletown: Criminal Trespass (Middletown PD warrant).
Warren Dumas of Liberty: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Cynthia Ellies of Livingston Manor: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Ernest Ellies of Livingston Manor: CSCS 3 (3 cts), CPW (sawed off shotgun).
Joyce Fitch of Liberty: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Della Mae Folsom of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Elizabeth Fore of Monticello: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Leonard Fore of Monticello: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Charles Gonzales of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Maria Gould (aka Tara Guarnera) of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2cts).
Terrance Hayden of Liberty: CSM (3 cts).
Ricky Hendrickson of Liberty: CSM (2 cts), CPM (1/2 lb).
Charles Isaacson of Liberty: CSCS 3 (3 cts).
Bernard Jackson of Middletown: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Nathan Legrande of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Sean Legrande of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Serfandes Legrande of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Messiah Lockhart of Livingston Manor: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Willie Melendez of Monticello: CPCS 4 (10 grams of crack cocaine), CSM (1 ct).
David Morris of Woodridge: CSM (1 ct over 4 oz), CSM (2 cts under 4 oz).
Jacqueline Morris of Woodridge: CSM (2 cts over 4 oz), CSM (2 cts under 4 oz).
Jesus Olan of Fallsburg: CSCS 3 (3 cts).
Akim Philpot of Liberty: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Damion Ramos of Monticello: CSCS 3 (1 ct).
Albert Robinson of Fallsburg: CPCS 3 (1 ct), Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
Doug White of Liberty: CPCS 2 (25 1/8 balls)
Matt Wiggins (aka Quaz) of Livingston Manor: CSCS 3 (2 cts).
Jerome Williams of Livingston Manor: CPCS 7 (1 ct).