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Oct 29, 2019 3:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Effects Of Drug Raid Felt On Shinnecock Territory

The press release at the Suffolk County District Attorney office.RACHEL VALDESPINO RACHEL VALDESPINO
Oct 29, 2019 4:48 PM


Families residing on Shinnecock Indian Nation territory woke up to a brigade of police on their front lawns last Thursday morning, October 24.

Following a nearly year-long investigation, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office and the East End Drug Task Force conducted the early morning sweep, arresting 24 individuals — eight of whom lived on the Nation’s territory — in connection with a drug ring that authorities said was based there.

Authorities said that the drug ring used the protection of the sovereign territory — which does not have a police presence of its own, relying instead on State Police for public safety — to stay under the radar. Tribe members countered that only a small number of arrests targeted tribe members, and they say the police response last week was excessive.

“For far too long, criminals have attempted to evade law enforcement and hide on the Shinnecock Reservation, terrorizing the law-abiding members of the Shinnecock Nation — selling drugs, and committing various acts of violence, That ends today,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said at the press conference on Thursday evening in Hauppauge.

The investigation revealed evidence that the drug distribution ring was responsible for selling over $1 million worth of heroin cut with fentanyl each year, as well as quantities of cocaine, oxycodone pills and marijuana. Police said roughly 250 grams of heroin was sold each month, with a street value of approximately $83,000, in addition to 200 grams of cocaine each month, with a street value of $33,000, as well as various other substances, including pills and marijuana.

“This is a massive drug ring operation out of the reservation, which was an effort on their part — a failed effort — to evade detection by law enforcement,” Mr. Sini said last week.

The overwhelming presence of the police involved in the sweep shocked residents living there — particularly given its early hour, about 7 a.m.

“I think the raid was a traumatic experience for the tribe because of [what time] the police department did everything,” said Autumn Rose Williams, tribal communications director for the Shinnecock Indian Nation, noting that police should have been aware that children were still in many homes and hadn’t left for school yet.

She added, “They should be cognizant that you may or may not be done by the time the children get on the bus — and then to have the children witness that is traumatic for those kids and those families.”

Some residents of the territory also were upset about the media coverage surrounding the arrests, which they said were perpetuating stereotypes about violence and drug abuse on tribal territory, though the majority of the arrests took place elsewhere.

“Experiencing the raid, and then having the news use very specific rhetoric that is very harmful to Shinnecock people — knowing that there was only a select few out of the whole 24 that actually committed these crimes, is extremely harmful for the tribe,” Ms. Williams said. “We are still feeling the effects of those words today, because we have not only our children going to school with other kids asking these questions, but we have adults going into workplaces and having to figure out, how do I have this conversation?”

Dyani Brown, a member of the Nation and a resident of the territory, agreed that the media coverage was suspect and blamed the investigators. “The message people received from the press conference was probably very upsetting, because it was very biased, very focused on Shinnecock, and a lot of it was sensationalized — especially the whole violence thing,” she said.

Ms. Brown was born and raised in the community, she said, and has always felt it to be very safe. “The only violent incident that scared me here was the cops with their tanks rolling down the street, scaring the kids at 7 in the morning,” she said, calling it the most violence her community has ever seen.

“All the violence seems to come from the people outside, bringing it in here,” she said. “These criminals did not terrorize our neighborhood … We have a problem in our neighborhood, that’s no secret — but these people were hardworking fathers and family members who supported their families, and those families are grieving right now.”

In response to the arrests, the Shinnecock Council of Trustees said in a statement sent out by Tribal Trustee Chairman Bryan Polite: “Although the Council of Trustees did not have prior knowledge of the operation, the Shinnecock community at large has suffered greatly due to the opioid and fentanyl epidemic, and tribal members have consistently requested the assistance of outside law enforcement agencies to help combat the issue. The Shinnecock Nation is committed to bettering the quality of life for all our tribal members, and the council will continue to provide a safe and tranquil environment for our Nation.”

Local police and prosecutors offered few details about the investigation this week, saying that it was ongoing.

According to Mr. Sini, the investigation began in December 2018, following an increase of reports of firearm violence on tribal territory, marked by what he said was increased narcotics distribution, firearm possession and several fatal overdoses.

Police said the long-term investigation involved the use of undercover officers, confidential informants, routine surveillance, wiretapping, and a significant amount of collaboration between law enforcement agencies.

The East End Drug Task Force — made up of officers and detectives from the area’s town and village police departments, and directed by the D.A.’s office — as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York State Police, and the Suffolk County Police Department, led the investigation.

Mr. Sini said, to date, throughout the investigation, authorities recovered in excess of 65 grams of heroin, 47 grams of a fentanyl analog, cocaine, a shotgun, more than 10 pounds of marijuana, oxycodone, a digital scale, and $16,000 in cash.

Mr. Sini added that the search warrants executed Thursday alone uncovered approximately 120 grams of heroin, multiple grams of fentanyl, 90 grams of cocaine, over 10 pounds of marijuana, an assault weapon, numerous shotguns and rifles, as well as drug paraphernalia, including materials consistent with drug packaging and resale, as well as cutting agents.

“The Southampton Town Police Department participates with the East End Drug Task Force and recognizes this investigation as a major step to mitigate the flow of dangerous and potentially deadly drugs to members of the Shinnecock Nation and neighboring communities within the Town of Southampton,” Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said in a press release issued by the D.A.’s office. “We are committed to the fight against illegal drug trafficking while providing awareness, education and treatment to those who are or may become addicted to dangerous drugs.”

He declined to comment further, directing all questions to Mr. Sini’s office, noting that it remains an active investigation.

According to police, the investigation revealed evidence that William Bess III, 35, who lives on the Shinnecock territory, allegedly purchased large quantities of heroin and cocaine in order to resell to individuals on the territory and elsewhere. He was charged with conspiracy in the fourth degree, criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, all felonies. If convicted of the most serious count, he faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.

Investigators say he received some of the drugs from Johnnie Booker, 35, of Bellport, his supplier of cocaine. Mr. Booker was charged with conspiracy in the fourth degree, two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, all felonies. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.

Authorities said the investigation also revealed evidence that Justin Eleazer, 29, and Ryan Kellis, 32, who both live on the territory, distributed heroin and cocaine to members of the Shinnecock Nation and other residents in the Southampton area. Both Mr. Eleazer and Mr. Kellis used other members of the organization to test the heroin they were selling to ensure its potency in order to determine its value, authorities said.

Mr. Eleazer was charged with operating as a major trafficker, conspiracy in the second degree, both felonies, and DWI, a misdemeanor. If convicted of the top count, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Mr. Kellis was charged with operating as a major trafficker, conspiracy in the second degree, four counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, and six counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, all felonies. If convicted of the top count, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Other suppliers of the narcotics were Benjamin Diaz, 47, of the Bronx, and Kenneth Rivero, 34, of Riverhead, authorities said.

Mr. Diaz, was charged with operating as a major trafficker and conspiracy in the second degree, both felonies. If convicted of the top count, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Mr. Rivero was charged with conspiracy in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and criminal possession of marijuana in the first degree, all felonies. He was arrested at 6:30 a.m. at Lake Pointe Drive in Middle Island. He was arraigned on Thursday afternoon at Southampton Village Justice Court and cash bail was set at $10,000. There will be a bail source hearing on October 29.

Joseph Dowling, 27, of Sag Harbor, was charged with conspiracy in the second degree, criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, all felonies.

Others facing a single charge of conspiracy in the second degree, a felony, are: Max Byrne, 30, of Southampton; Ryan Aldrich, 27, of East Hampton; Brandon Gardner, 33, of Southampton; Edward Gumbs, 57, of Southampton; Thomas Halek, 49, of Hampton Bays; Matthew Manzella, 30, of Hampton Bays; Walter Mims, 33, of Southampton; Derrick Quinn, 49, of Southampton; Valton Reddick, 51, of Southampton; Nichole Rosado, 29, of Southampton; Richard Short, 50, of Southampton; Nicholas Spiegel, 32, of Hampton Bays; Frank Taylor, 59, of Southampton; and John Tracey, 25, of East Hampton.

Each of the defendants facing conspiracy charges could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Also arrested in connection with the investigation: Trevor Hardin, 29, of Flanders, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, and criminal possession of marijuana in the first degree, all felonies. If convicted of the most serious count, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Mr. Hardin was arraigned on Thursday afternoon at Southampton Village Justice Court. Bail was set at $100,000.

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