10/04/13 4:15am
10/04/2013 4:15 AM
COURT DOCUMENT IMAGE | A photo taken during Tuesday's raid of an Osborn Avenue property shows dozens of marijuana plants in the garage of Edward Dispirito, police say.

COURT DOCUMENT IMAGE | A photo taken during Tuesday’s raid of an Osborn Avenue property shows dozens of marijuana plants in the garage of Edward Dispirito, police say.

As a nor’easter pounded Riverhead with several inches of snow on a cold morning this March, a Suffolk County police detective scanned the houses along Osborn Avenue.

He was on the trail of a drug supplier — a “grow house” manager for a multi-million dollar marijuana operation in town.

In 2012, a grower busted in Suffolk County had turned informant, giving federal law enforcement information about a large-scale operation in Riverhead Town, run by a former trainee of his who split off to grow his own drugs after a dispute over a shortfall in the profit.

Now, as snow fell, the investigator was near the property of the informant’s former protégé.

The detective  — who served on the Internal Revenue Service task force tracking down the operation — saw more than four inches of snow blanketing the entire roofs of all the houses, garages and sheds on the block. All except one.

On a shed behind the garage in the northeast corner of a property just off the main road between Malcolm Way and Mill Road, the snowflakes melted the moment they touched the roof.

That hot-spot, investigators say, is where 70-year-old Edward Dispirito was growing a portion of his roughly $3.8 million worth of marijuana plants as part of an extensive growing operation hidden in his house, garage and sheds.

That story was part of a sworn affidavit filed in federal court this week by a Suffolk County police detective who obtained a warrant to search the houses of Mr. Dispirito and his distributor, 55-year-old James Ford, an ex-convict with an extensive history of drug arrests living in Seaford.

Tuesday’s raids uncovered nearly 1,700 marijuana plants, about 50 grow lamps and transformers, drying tables, harvest records and “multiple years worth of marijuana grow,” and an illegal electrical meter bypass that allowed Mr. Dispirito to steal more than $275,000 in power from the Long Island Power Authority to power his operation, according to the criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District Court of New York.

(Story continues below)

Click right side of column below to advance timeline ↘

Both Mr. Dispirito and Mr. Ford, who investigators say operated under the name “Jimmy the Garbageman,” have been arrested on federal charges of distribution of a controlled substance.

The investigation that led to the pair’s arrest began in October 2009, when members of the Suffolk County Asset Forfeiture Unit — Suffolk Treasury Enhanced Prosecution Program (STEPP) — began looking into a marijuana trafficking ring growing the drugs inside residential homes in the county, according to the complaint.

A confidential source had tipped off police to a trio of homes being used to grow the plants and based on the informant, police believed the ring had been in operation since 2005, according to the complaint.

After nearly three years of scouring through garbage and watching the houses, the investigation yielded fruit.

In April 2012, Federal agents raided three properties in Medford, Middle Island and Manorville, discovering a series of marijuana growing and packaging operations, court documents state.

Inside the locations, agents found 28 pounds of marijuana in various plastic bags, 1,700 marijuana plants, an electric bypass system, and grow lamps, as well as roughly $110,000 in cash hidden in a guitar case in the grower’s home music studio, according to deposition in the case.

A confidential source from those investigations — who admitted to laundering the money from the marijuana sales with the help of his attorney — alerted police to Mr. Dispirito, who ran one of  the grow houses from 2006 to 2008, according to the investigator’s statement.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Police said they found nearly 1,700 marijuana plants worth $3.8 million on this property on Osborn Avenue.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Police said they found nearly 1,700 marijuana plants worth $3.8 million on this property on Osborn Avenue.

Police began tracking Mr. Dispirito, finding a white SUV registered in his named parked at a house on Osborn Avenue in January of this year, an affidavit filed by the investigator states. The investigator in the case later saw a “thin” man exit the house, look around, then go back inside.

The face of that man matched a Department of Motor Vehicles photo of Mr. Dispirito, according to the affidavit.

After seeing snow melting off the roof of Mr. Dispirito’s shed in March, the detective again staked out the alleged grower’s property in September, noting that the shades were drawn on all the house and garage windows. Two sheds had “roof vents to release heat,” the investigator said.

While walking on Osborn Avenue, the investigator smelled the “strong skunky smell” of marijuana blowing south from the house, he said.

Federal agents obtained a subpoena for Long Island Power Authority records of Mr. Dispirito’s power consumption. The subpoena revealed that Mr. Dispirito began paying for power in January 2008, the same time he allegedly left the operations farther west and struck off on his own, according to court documents.

A hidden check of his power consumption later found he was diverting power away from the original electrical meter. The investigator cited in the complaint called this an indicator that Mr. Dispirito was growing a marijuana farm inside.

“Due to the very high electricity consumption of the [grow] lights, air conditioners and other equipment needed to grow marijuana, and its associated high monetary cost, indoor marijuana growers often bypass the electric meter installed by … LIPA with illegal taps,” the detective wrote in his affidavit.

Police next used a thermal imaging camera to reveal several “high heat thermal anomalies” in the house and garage, the affidavit states. The detached garage had both air conditioning and a “oddly placed” roof vent blowing out “extreme heat,” according to the complaint.

On Sept. 25, law enforcement detailed the evidence against Mr. Dispirito in a search warrant request. Six days later, they raided the property.

Court documents show that as police were building the case against Mr. Dispirito, they were also investigating his distributor.

Law enforcement authorities had tapped Mr. Dispirito’s phone records and discovered three phone calls over a one-month period between Mr. Dispirito and Mr. Ford, the Seaford man federal agents suspected was a major customer in the three-home marijuana growing operation busted in 2012, according to an affidavit.

COURT DOCUMENT IMAGE | Police say nearly 1,700 marijuana plants worth roughly $3.8 million were recovered from Mr. Dispirito's home, garage, and sheds.

COURT DOCUMENT IMAGE | Police say nearly 1,700 marijuana plants worth roughly $3.8 million were recovered from Mr. Dispirito’s home, garage, and sheds.

“Jimmy the Garbageman” was no stranger to drugs, court records show. In 1978, he was arrested for first-degree criminal sale of marijuana, sixth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, sixth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and two counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, according to the detective’s affidavit in the criminal complaint filed against him Tuesday.

Between 2004 and 2012, Mr. Ford bought roughly $6 million worth of marijuana from the Medford-Middle Island-Manorville drug ring, the complaint states.

In September, police watched Mr. Ford carry two duffle bags into a Ford van parked in front of his house on Tuscala Street. Two men then got into the van and began driving away as Mr. Ford followed behind on a motorcycle, according to the complaint.

Police soon realized Mr. Ford was watching them, so they broke off the surveillance.

After obtaining a search warrant, federal agents raided Mr. Ford’s home as additional law enforcement swarmed Mr. Dispirito’s house.

Inside Mr. Dispirito’s home, police discovered a similar operation to the one they had busted last year.

In addition to the 1,689 plants, 50 grow lights, dry tables and electrical equipment, police found heat sealer, fertilizer and “many other assorted items that are routinely used in the indoor marijuana growing business.”

Agents also discovered trays of drying marijuana, scales and packaging material and stickers identifying the drugs as a product called “Bad Dog,” court documents show.

Those stickers matched hundreds found at Mr. Ford’s home, as well as the “Bad Dog” vanity plate on his car, the detective said. Police also allegedly found five pounds of packaged marijuana inside his home.

Based on interviews with informants and evidence obtained in the operation, investigators believe Mr. Ford has “distributed well over $9 million worth of marijuana from 2003 to date,” according to the complaint.

Both men were arrested and arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Kathleen Tomlinson in Eastern District Court in Central Islip Tuesday.

Mr. Ford was released on $450,000 bail secured using his house and help from his sister, a court source said.

Mr. Dispirito appeared in U.S. District court Friday and was released under house arrest on $500,000 bond, secured using property from his sisters and a friend.

psquire@timesreview.com

Correction: Mr. Dispirito’s age was listed incorrectly in an earlier version of this article.

09/22/13 11:47pm
09/22/2013 11:47 PM
BING MAPS | The route police say Robert Davis drove as he attempted to leave the scene where he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.

BING MAPS | The route police say Robert Davis drove as he attempted to leave the scene where he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.

A homeless man’s attempt to escape the scene where he assaulted his girlfriend in Riverhead Sunday night ended after he drove off the Long Island Expressway and crashed into a cluster of trees, Riverhead Town police said.

Robert Davis, 52, first crashed into another car as he sped onto Route 58 from the Best Yet parking lot, moments after assaulting his girlfriend in front of the grocery store, police said. Driving at a slow rate of speed due to a flat tire on his red 1992 Buick sedan, Mr. Davis made it to the westbound Long Island Expressway, but his car struck a guard rail just west of exit 71 and left the roadway shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Mr. Davis, whose last known address was on Floyd Road in Shirley, was charged with DWI drugs and third-degree assault, police said.

He was airlifted by Suffolk County police helicopter to Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he is still being treated for non-life threatening injuries, police said.

His girlfriend, who is also 52 years old and homeless, was treated and released from Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment of injuries sustained in the assault, police said.

There were no other injuries in the incident, police said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the accident occurred Saturday night. A police press release listed the wrong date.

09/17/13 9:05am
09/17/2013 9:05 AM

SouthamptonPD HQ4 - 500

A Riverhead woman was caught holding a crack pipe at a Riverside bus shelter Saturday, town police said.

Sabrina Butler, 44, was sitting in the shelter along Route 24 with an unidentified man about 8:10 p.m., when a police officer approached and saw she was holding a crack pipe in her right hand with some cocaine inside, police said.

Ms. Butler told police she had more crack cocaine inside a pocket of her backpack, where police found a plastic baggie containing “crack cocaine resin,” according to a police report.

Ms. Butler was arrested and charged with three counts of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

08/27/13 10:00pm
08/27/2013 10:00 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead police detectives outside the Koppert Cress greenhouse on Horton Avenue Tuesday afternoon.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead police detectives outside the Koppert Cress greenhouse on Horton Avenue Tuesday afternoon.

A Laurel man was busted for growing marijuana at a Riverhead greenhouse Tuesday afternoon after Riverhead Town police and the East End Drug Task Force found more than 50 marijuana plants on the property, according to a Riverhead police statement.

Police searched the Koppert Cress greenhouse on the corner of Sound Avenue and Horton Avenue with a warrant and discovered 57 plants, as well as a box truck used to transport the plants, according to the statement. Some of the plants were discovered on the property, while others were found in the truck, police said.

All of the plants were in a “grown phase” and had not yet been harvested, police said.

Anton Van De Wetering, 43, of Laurel was arrested and charged with two counts of Unlicensed Growing of Canabis, a class “A” misdemeanor, according to the statement. Police said additional charges will be filed once the marijuana plants are analyzed and weighed by the Suffolk County Crime Lab.

Mr. Van de Wetering is the son of 82-year-old Peter Van de Wetering, who founded Van de Wetering Greenhouses in 1958. The greenhouses have produced the tulips that line Park Avenue for years, and the company was featured  in an April New York Times article.

The younger Van de Wetering, who was the longtime manager of Van de Wetering Greenhouses, is “no longer affiliated in any way with Van de Wetering Greenhouses,” said a company representative.

Anton Van de Wetering left the company over a year ago, the spokesman said.

While at the scene Tuesday afternoon, police Lt. David Lessard said authorities believed contraband was “brought onto the property.” Police later said the East End Drug Task Force received a tip from a confidential informant about the marijuana.

A man who answered the phone listed for the Koppert Cress company said he had “no idea what was going on” at the Sound Avenue greenhouse. Koppert Cress bought the property searched by police from the Talmage family in 2012.

The East End Drug Task Force is headed by the district attorney’s office and comprises law enforcement personnel from across the county’s five East End towns.

A Suffolk County police helicopter was called in to assist during the investigation and Riverhead police were seen walking through the parking lot of the greenhouse, with some patrol cars leaving and returning to the scene.

psquire@timesreview.com

07/22/13 8:00am
07/22/2013 8:00 AM

A Mattituck pharmacist was arrested Friday after he was caught stealing Hydrocone pills from the Rite Aid store where he was employed, Southold Town Police said in a press release issued Monday morning.

An investigation revealed Paul Rinaldi, 57, of Miller Place was using the pills to self medicate over the course of a six-month period, police said. He was reported to police by Rite Aid’s asset protection division, police said.

He was transported to police headquarters and processed Friday, and has since been released on bail.

07/21/13 6:24am
07/21/2013 6:24 AM

Riverhead Police

Five drivers were arrested for driving drunk in Riverhead Saturday and one more was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs, according to a press release from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office’s East End DWI Task Force.

The task force effort was conducted by officers from the Riverhead, Westhampton Beach and Quogue Village police departments, who seized two vehicles in the operation.

Police said the following East End residents were arrested and charged with DWI:

Nelson Avelar, 33, of Riverhead, who was also charged with an interlock device violation and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Tranquilino Chamale, 35, of Aquebogue

Rogelio Boch, 27, of Riverhead

Richard Kruedelbach, 53, of Southampton

Otto Rac-Subuyuj, 29, of Water Mill

Shamir Euceda, 23, of Hampton Bays was the driver charged with DWAI Drugs.

05/02/13 5:15pm
05/02/2013 5:15 PM
Riverhead Justice Court drugs

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTOS | James Leggon Jr. and Victoria Reyes being led into Riverhead court in March.

A Riverhead couple arrested in a March drug raid was back in court Thursday afternoon, now facing a second round of drug and child endangerment charges, police said.

James Leggon Jr., 39, and Victoria Reyes, 26, both of Oakland Drive North, were arrested Thursday morning after members of the DA’s East End Drug Task Force and Riverhead Town police again executed a search warrant at their home, authorities said.

Mr. Leggon and Ms. Reyes were arraigned at Southampton Town Justice Court about 3 p.m., because Riverhead court proceedings were not being held this week, police said. They were each being charged with felony criminal nuisance and two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance after police found crack cocaine on the premises, prosecutors said.

The couple allegedly confessed to selling crack cocaine, Justice Barbara Wilson said in court.

“She says it’s his; he says it’s hers,” Justice Wilson said.

The couple is also facing child endangerment charges, as Mr. Leggon’s 13-year-old child was home at the time, prosecutors said in court.

Their Oakland Drive North home, in which the two drug suspects have been living for about eight years, was also raided by East End Task Force members March 7.

Following that raid, the couple lost temporary custody of their children, prosecutors said in court.

Prosecutors said Mr. Leggon has one prior felony conviction and three prior misdemeanor convictions.

Mr. Leggon’s mother has temporary custody of the couple’s three small children, Mr. Leggon said in court.

In March, they were each charged three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, as their 1- and 2-year-old girls and 4-year-old boy were found to be living in unsanitary conditions in the house at the time, prosecutors said in court back in March.

“You’ve already lost your children,” Justice Wilson said to Ms. Reyes in court today. “I couldn’t imagine anything more painful than losing my child.”

Mr. Leggon and Ms. Reyes were also charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a weapon and unlawful possession of marijuana in the March raid, according to a report.

Mr. Leggon  is being held on $100,000 bond or $50,000 cash or credit.

Ms. Reyes is being held on $50,000 bail.

The couple is due back in court Wednesday, May 8.

cmiller@timesreview.com

04/24/13 10:00am
04/24/2013 10:00 AM

The Peconic Independent Pharmacy Association is hosting its annual prescription drug disposal program today, accepting pharmaceuticals for disposal at several North Fork pharmacies.

PIPA has been hosting the event, known as The Great Peconic Takeback, annually since 2010 to promote pharmaceutical safety in the home and proper disposal, keeping pharmaceuticals out of the ground water.

Environmentalists have voiced concern over pharmaceuticals entering groundwater, even in trace amounts, impacting the safety of humans and wildlife.

Pharmaceuticals should be in their original, labeled containers, with the patient’s name blacked out with permanent marker. The medications do not have to have been purchased at the participating pharmacies, and no personal identification is required. All types of medications will be accepted.

Pharmaceuticals and medications can be dropped off for disposal at any of the following locations between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., free of charge.

Barth’s Drug Store in Riverhead
32 East Main Street

Martin Drugs in Riverhead
849 Old Country Road

Cutchogue Pharmacy
28195 Main Road

Southold Pharmacy
53895 Main Road

The Riverhead Police Department is also hosting a drug disposal event on Saturday, April 27, in honor of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Police, partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, will be accepting medications from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Riverhead Police Department, located at 210 Howell Avenue.

“All citizens are encouraged to check their medications and turn in expired or unwanted drugs. Doing so only ensures the safety of you and your family. It also protects the environment from the harmful effects of improper disposal,” Riverhead Police said in a release.