‘Multi-million dollar’ NYC-to-Riverhead cocaine ring busted

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.

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