07/31/12 11:40am
07/31/2012 11:40 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A collection of the drugs, cash, and tools seized by the East End Drug Task Force during a seven-month investigation.

A “multi-million dollar” cocaine-distribution ring, ferrying four kilos of cocaine a week using hidden compartments in vehicles traveling from New York City to Riverhead, has been busted by the East End Drug Task Force, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

The investigation, which began last November and lasted until June, revealed that Robert Love, 58, of Riverhead and Miguel Matos, 45, of the Bronx were “ringleaders” of the operation, one of the largest in East End history, officials said.

Mr. Matos’ son-in-law, Radames “Ray” Melendez, 22, also of the Bronx, allegedly served as a courier in the ring, transporting drugs from New York to Mr. Love in Riverhead, before returning to New York City to be paid, according to authorities.

Mr. Melendez and Mr. Matos would meet Mr. Love in Riverhead or in western Suffolk County to transfer the drugs, officials said.

Mr. Love received about a kilo of cocaine, worth about $37,000, every other day, officials said; he would then break the kilos into gram-sized chunks and sell them in Greenport, Riverhead, Flanders and Southampton for $50 and $60 a gram.

“That amount of cocaine flowing into the East End of Suffolk County … is a tremendous amount,” Mr. Spota said, adding that he believes hundreds received cocaine through the ring’s distribution.

Mr. Matos was a “major player” in the drug trafficking world, Mr. Spota said. When police executed the search warrant on his apartment, they found a sophisticated operation featuring security cameras — some disguised as smoke alarms — watching the packaging areas and hallways to ensure Mr. Matos’ accomplices didn’t steal drugs, officials said.

Detectives retrieved thousands in cash, drugs and tools used to compress the cocaine into kilos for sale, Mr. Spota added.

East End Drug Task Force detectives seized 13 cars and discovered hidden traps used to hide powdered cocaine in three of them, officials said.

The electronic traps were opened by pressing buttons, such as the hazard light, air conditioning or windshield wiper buttons, in a specific sequence, Mr. Spota said.

The men were arrested June 13 by Riverhead Town police and were held in custody awaiting grand jury indictment, which was handed up July 26, according to court records.

Mr. Love was arrested at his home in Riverhead; he allegedly tried to flee police and threw a kilo of cocaine over a fence during the arrest.

In 2003, officials said, Mr. Love was arrested for the sale and possession of cocaine and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. He was released in December 2009 and is currently on parole.

“He convinced the parole board that he had seen the light, that he was rehabilitated, and that light, as you can see … has quickly faded,” Mr. Spota said.

The District Attorney said Mr. Matos had no prior arrests and he was unsure specifically where he was getting his drugs from. He did say a “significant amount” of money was being transferred to the Dominican Republic as part of the cocaine ring

Mr. Love and Mr. Matos are being charged under the state’s three-year-old “kingpin statute,” which carries heavier sentences for major distributors of illegal drugs.

The two men face charges of operating as a major trafficker as a profiteer from sale, operating as a major trafficker as a profiteer from possession, first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all class A1 felonies that carry top sentences of life imprisonment. They also face a charge of second-degree conspiracy, a class B felony.

Mr. Matos was additionally charged with operating as a major trafficker as director of a controlled substance operation, a class A1 felony.

Mr. Melendez is facing charges of first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and first-degree conspiracy.

The three men were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday, but the date was postponed when one of the defendants requested a new lawyer. Mr. Matos and Mr. Melendez will be arraigned Aug. 3, while Mr. Love will be arraigned Aug. 8.

The East End Drug Task Force was formed in 1988 and it uses undercover officers from surrounding town and village police departments, along with officers from the state, county and sheriff’s departments, to investigate narcotics on the East End.

Mr. Spota thanked local police departments, like Riverhead, Southold and Southampton, for lending officers to assist in the investigation.

“I’m very, very proud of the work this task force has done,” he said. “They have done an admirable job … and I am very, very thankful to all of the departments who contribute manpower to the East End Drug Task Force.”

Mr. Spota added that he expects about “a dozen or more” arrests to be made in connection with the ring.

psquire@timesreview.com

07/31/12 11:00am

COURTESY PHOTO | A 1,000-pound sea turtle was rescued in Long Island Sound Monday night with the help of the Riverhead Foundation’s Rescue Program.

When the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau needed help freeing a 1,000-pound sea turtle entangled in the lines of several lobster pots in Long Island Sound Monday night, the unit called the Riverhead Foundation’s Rescue Program.

Two Marine Bureau officers received word of the distressed sea turtle around 8:40 p.m. Monday. The officers maneuvered their boat, M-Delta, into position about a mile north of Mount Sinai Harbor to free the turtle, but could only untie one of its flippers. The officers requested help and a second marine boat, M-Bravo, transported Julika Wocial, Riverhead Foundation’s Rescue Program Supervisor, and Kimberly Durham, Rescue Program Director. Together, they worked with the officers for more than three hours using lights, cutting tools and poles to free the massive turtle.

Wocial and Durham said it was a female Leatherback sea turtle — which is endangered —that was about 6 feet long.

The turtle — agitated while tied up — reportedly calmed down once freed and swam away on its own.

The Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau encourages boaters to immediately report any sightings of stranded or entangled marine life so a similar outcome can be achieved.

07/31/12 8:12am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Off Main owners Kayleigh and Tahir Vliet-Baig outside the Riverhead eatery last year.

After just one year in business, Off Main market and kitchen, the New York City-style deli and market on Osborn Avenue, has closed its doors.

The owners left a status on the store’s Facebook page Tuesday morning that read “Off Main 8/11-8/12.”

“Done. All we can say is, thanks to all our loyal customers, and we hope we’ll meet again,” they later wrote in a comment.

The store was closed on Sunday, a sign on the door said it was due to a family emergency and would reopen the next day. Now it appears the store, loved by many for its eclectic selection of delectable deli sandwiches and tasty baked goods, is closed.

“When we started we were just going to open a little deli,” co-owner Kayleigh Van Vliet Baig told the News-Review on the day the store opened last year. “It turned into this. And it is going to turn into so much more.”

Ms. Van Vliet-Baig and her husband, Tahir Baig, were co-winners of the News-Review’s Business of the Year award in January.

The lights were off at the store Tuesday and nobody was there. The owners could not be reached by telephone.

A man on a bicycle outside the store said: “I come here on my days off. That’s a shame. They’re such nice people.”

gparpan@timesreview.com

07/31/12 7:47am

A drug-smuggling ring, which allegedly ferried up to three kilos of cocaine a week using hidden compartments in vehicles traveling from New York City to Riverhead, has been busted by the East End Drug Task Force, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Robert Love, 58, of Riverhead and Miguel Matos, 45, of the Bronx were the “ringleaders” of the operation, said District Attorney spokesman Robert Clifford.

Mr. Matos’ son-in-law, Radames “Ray” Melendez, 22, also of the Bronx, allegedly served as the courier in the ring and ferried drugs from New York in to Mr. Love in Riverhead before returning to New York City to be paid, according to the statement.

During an East End Drugs Task Force investigation which began last November, detectives seized 13 cars and discovered hidden traps used to hide powdered cocaine in three of the vehicles, officials said. The electronic traps were opened by pressing hazard light, air conditioning, or windshield wiper buttons in a sequence, according to the statement.

The three defendants will be arraigned in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverside Tuesday.

The men were arrested on June 13 by Riverhead Town Police and held in custody awaiting a Grand Jury indictment, which was handed up on July 26, according to court records.

Mr. Love and Mr. Matos are facing charges of second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, first-degree conspiracy, and operating a drug ring, all of which are felonies, which can carry top sentences of life in jail, or class B felonies, which carry top sentences of up to 25 years in jail.

Mr. Melendez is facing charges of first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and first-degree conspiracy, and also could face life in jail.

More details, including photos of the car’s secret compartments and cocaine and packaging material seized by the East End Drugs Task Force will be revealed at a press conference hosted by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota Tuesday morning.

The East End Drug Task Force was formed in 1988 and uses undercover officers from surrounding town and village police departments, along with officers from the state, county, and sheriff departments, to investigate narcotics on the East End.

07/31/12 7:00am

A Wading River woman was arrested July 28 on drunk driving charges after crashing her car into another vehicle, according to Suffolk police.

Daria Okrasinski, 30, was driving a 2005 Toyota Sienna along Route 25A in Mount Sinai when she crashed Saturday afternoon, officials said.

No injuries were reported.

Ms. Okrasinski was charged with DWI, seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana, police said.

07/30/12 10:45pm
07/30/2012 10:45 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats first baseman Jimmy Luppens went 4-for-5 in Game 1 Monday.

In unison, the fans lining the field at Shelter Island High School rose to a crescendo, clapping and cheering their Bucks as they began the bottom of the ninth inning Monday.

Trailing by three runs, their season on the line, the Bucks needed a miraculous inning to extend their inaugural season. As much as the players wanted to keep their season alive, so to did the fans who passionately supported them all summer.

As the bottom of the ninth began, the fans could sense the end was near. No one wanted to see it come.

Except for the Riverhead Tomcats.

The No. 4 seed in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball playoffs, the Tomcats knocked off the top-seeded Bucks by sweeping a doubleheader in front of a big crowd on Shelter Island. The Tomcats won the first game 8-6 and clinched the first-round playoff series with a 5-3 victory in Game 2.

After more than six hours of baseball, the Tomcats punched their ticket to the finals of the HCB playoffs, where they’ll face either North Fork or Southampton. The teams split a doubleheader Monday. North Fork, after losing the first game, won with a walk-off home run in extra innings of Game 2.

“We battle,” said Riverhead coach Randy Caden. “These guys don’t give up. They battle. We don’t hit much, but we hit when we’re supposed to.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats pitcher Matt Facendo won Game 1 by throwing the final 4 2/3 innings.

The Tomcats, despite some sloppiness early in the first game, outplayed Shelter Island throughout both games. They picked up clutch hits, got strong pitching and withstood the loss of their starting catcher midway through the first game.

Shelter Island finished its season with a 23-19 overall record.

“It was a good run,” said Shelter Island coach Joe Burke. “We didn’t play well in the playoffs. Hopefully we have another shot at it next year and we play a little better.”

The Tomcats (23-19) jumped ahead early in both games. They scored five runs in the first two innings of Game 1 and four runs through the first three innings of Game 2.

“Once you get runs the first inning, they’re always trying to get back at you,” said Riverhead shortstop Alec Sole, who’s often greeted before his at-bats with a chant of “hip-hip! Sole!.” “It’s a lot harder for them.”

Sole had a big day at the plate in both games. In Game 2 he was 3-for-4 with two doubles and a walk. He hit an RBI single in the second inning that made it 3-1 Riverhead.

One of the tricky parts about playing in the league, Sole said, is adjusting to different bats. The wooden bats often break, and with the season near the end, the inventory is shrinking. He began the day using a 33-ounce bat, only to switch to a 32-ounce bat later in the day after his first bat broke. He said he’s still not sure which bat he really prefers.

“I’ve been hitting really good with the 32,” he said. “I’m trying to figure that out.”

Either way, it worked out nicely for Sole. He was 1-for-3 with two runs in the first game and he walked twice.

The Tomcats lost catcher Jordan Parris in the first game when he got hit in the throat with a ball that bounced up off the ground in front of him. Parris was taken by ambulance to the hospital for precautionary reasons.

Caden said that Parris was doing OK.

Eric Weiner, who only joined the team a few weeks ago, came in to play catcher and did a superb job behind the plate. He walked and scored a run in Game 2 and also had a single. Behind the plate, he threw out two runners attempting to steal. The Tomcats will need him going forward, because Monday was set to be Parris’ last day with the team, even before he got injured.

“He’s a good hustler,” Caden said of Weiner. “He made some great plays today.”

Jonathan Cohen started Game 2 for Riverhead and threw six innings to earn the victory. He gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits and struck out four.

Collin McEnery pitched the final three innings, giving up just one unearned run in the ninth.

“They did a phenomenal job,” Sole said. “Couldn’t have asked for more.”

Cohen got into trouble in the fifth inning with the Tomcats leading 4-2. The Bucks loaded the bases with one out. But Cohen struck out Vin Guglietti on three pitches and then got Scott Donaghue to fly out to deep center to end the inning.

Caden said Cohen was at 104 pitches after six innings when he decided to take him out.

“I’ve been going with my gut lately with pitching,” Caden said. “I’ve been lucky going with gut.”

Zack Hopf started Game 1 and threw 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs (three earned). He struck out seven.

“I took out Hopf before he could win the game because he had thrown a lot the last outing,” Caden said. “He was at 98 pitches and these guys are too valuable to hurt.”

Caden called on Matt Facendo to close out the game and he pitched the final 4 2/3 to earn the win. Facendo gave up one run and struck out four.

The Bucks, meanwhile, couldn’t match Riverhead on the mound.

“We did not pitch well,” Burke said. “We gave up 14 runs in two games. We didn’t have the starting pitching and defense.”

joew@timesreview.com

07/30/12 6:30pm

PETER BOODY FILE PHOTO | A LIPA crew at work to fix an outage following Tropical Storm Irene.

The Long Island Power Authority is scheduled to announce a major upgrade to the East End power system Tuesday in Riverhead.

LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey is scheduled to announce plans for a major transmission line upgrade stretching from LIPA’s Wildwood substation in Wading River to its Riverhead substation on West Main Street, near Snowflake.

The project would upgrade that 10.6 mile transmission line from its current 69 kilovolt transmission circuit to a 138 kilovolt circuit, a move that LIPA says will increase both the reliability and the transmission capacity of its service on both the North and South Forks.

“Without the project, the capacity from the existing transmission system will be inadequate to serve eastern Brookhaven and the East End electricity needs as early as the summer of 2013,” LIPA said in its state application for  the project last year.

The New York State Public Service Commission recently approved a “certificate of environmental compatibility” for the project, according to LIPA.

Suffolk County Legislature Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and state Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) also are expected to attend the 9:30 p.m. press conference tomorrow at the Riverhead substation.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/30/12 5:06pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Officer Charles Schneider was hospitalized in December after his police cruiser, pictured above, was hit head-on by a work van driven by an allegedly high and drunk driver during a police chase.

The Jamesport man who injured a Riverhead Town police officer when he crashed head-on into the officer’s police cruiser during a chase last December pleaded guilty to the charges against him Monday, according to court records.

Edward Ferger, 46, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault with intention to cause injury to a police officer, second-degree vehicular assault, reckless driving, operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs and other traffic offenses, according to the records.

Mr. Ferger was driving a white cargo van while high on drugs Dec. 14 when he was stopped on Herricks Lane in Jamesport after a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area, Riverhead police said. Mr. Ferger fled north on Herricks Lane and then west on Sound Avenue.

Officer Charles Schneider, who has been with the department since June 2010, was responding to assist the officer who was pursuing Mr. Ferger. Officer Schneider was traveling east on Sound Avenue when Mr. Ferger drifted into his lane and struck him head-on just before 11 p.m., police chief David Hegermiller said at the time of the incident.

Mr. Schneider was airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center with a broken bone in his leg and lacerations, and was placed on medical leave.

He was honored in January as Officer of the Year for a separate incident that occurred months before the crash, when Officer Schneider used a belt to make a tourniquet and saved a man whose artery in his left arm had ruptured and burst.

Mr. Ferger was not seriously injured in the December crash.

He had also been arrested in June 2011 after allegedly throwing drugs out the window of the same white van and ended up on the lawn at the George G. Young community center in Jamesport, town officials said. The van was impounded.

Mr. Ferger remains held on $100,000 cash or $25,000 bond bail and will be sentenced on Sept. 10.

gparpan@timesreview.com