By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY What the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said could be one of the biggest drug busts in New York State history occurred this week in southern Sullivan County.
More than 7,000 marijuana plants with a street value of $10-$20 million were seized, and 15 people were arrested in an investigation that spanned seven homes in the towns of Mamakating, Lumberland and Highland.
“It started with a car stop,” said Undersheriff Eric Chaboty.
Suspicious about high energy usage, deputies staked out a house on Pine Kill Road in the Town of Mamakating on Tuesday, then saw a vehicle stop in the driveway.
Upon questioning the people inside the car, they smelled a strong odor of marijuana, and the arrests began.
An investigation of the home the driveway served turned up around 1,000 marijuana plants in various stages of growth and processing, according to the DEA.
One of the suspects then started talking, leading deputies, DEA officers and even members of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force to half a dozen other homes.
According to law enforcement officials, the homes raided included 30 Brooktrail Road, 48 Bear Drive and 1193 Pine Kill Road near Westbrookville; 271 Haring Road, 317 Tuthill Road and 535 Decker Road near Barryville; and 75 Barker Road near Eldred.
By the time every plant was accounted for, Chaboty said it constituted “probably the largest drug seizure in Sullivan County history.”
In a press release issued Wednesday, the DEA said it was indeed a major bust.
“This seizure, the largest indoor marijuana grow operation of its kind in New York, exemplifies the sophistication with which these groups operate,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge John Gilbride. “Marijuana remains a significant source of illegal income for drug-trafficking groups in the New York area. The arrests and seizure were successful due to the concerted efforts of the DEA-led Strike Force and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.”
Arraigned on federal charges in U.S. District Court in White Plains this week were Elsa Rodriguez, Mainor Goody-Bernal, Ivan Enrique Barraza-Torres, Jaccqueline Mirrella Roca Cruz, Luis Estuardo, Jose Mario Solas Aguilar, Marco Barraza Morales, Edgar Reynaldo Portillo, Walter Elyseo Samayoa-Barraza, Javier Portillo-Magand, Anibal Benitez Cardozo, Ramon Leon, Augustine Sanchez, Rene Antonio Barraza Vasquez and Maria Elizabeth Santos Hernandez.
All defendants were detained without bail, said the DEA. If convicted, each faces from 10 years in prison to a maximum of life imprisonment.
Chaboty and the DEA said most of the suspects are undocumented immigrants from South America, and the drugs were being supplied to major markets all over the Northeast..