A multi-agency investigation into street gangs and narcotics in Riverhead led to more than a dozen arrests Wednesday as members of the Bloods street gang were charged for their involvement in large-scale distribution of crack cocaine, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
A total of 15 people were arrested following multiple raids early Wednesday morning with the assistance of local police. The investigation is led by the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and the Suffolk County East End Drug Task Force.
“The toxic mix of street gangs, drug dealing and illegal firearms poses a direct threat to the safety of our citizens and our community,” said United States Attorney Richard Donoghue in a statement announcing the arrests.“The Eastern District and our law enforcement partners in the FBI, ATF and Suffolk County will continue to target, penetrate and destroy criminal gangs that inflict addiction, violence and grief on the people of Suffolk County.”
The investigation began in early 2018 and officials said several of the defendants would “cook” powder cocaine into crack cocaine to increase its potency and street value. In one instance, while a defendant was cooking cocaine, a child was present in the residence, officials said.
Search warrants were executed Wednesday at multiple locations and police recovered seven firearms, including an AR-15 rifle, three kilograms of cocaine, four pounds of marijuana, a quantity of crack cocaine and heroin and $10,000 cash.
“Because of the great collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement, the East End of Long Island is safer,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini.
Three separate indictments were unsealed in federal court in Central Islip charging 12 defendants. Two additional defendants were arrested on related New York state drug charges by members of the East End Drug Task Force. Three federal defendants remain fugitives, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The defendants facing federal charges were arraigned in the afternoon before United States Magistrate Judges Anne Shields and Steven Locke.
One person was charged in a complaint with possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and possession of crack cocaine.
The defendants were ordered detained pending trial.
“The epidemic of illegal drugs and associated criminal activity negatively affects individuals and communities across the country, from every background and walk of life,” said William Sweeney, FBI assistant director-in-charge.
Multiple state and Riverhead police cars were seen outside a home on Washington Avenue in Jamesport Wednesday morning. According to Riverhead Local, arrests were made at the Holiday Inn Express and an apartment complex on Doctors Path, and officers were also seen in the Calverton Hills condominiums.
“The cooperation between agencies in this investigation is unparalleled,” said Riverhead police Chief David Hegermiller.
The people arrested were:
- Terrill Latney, 39, of Riverhead
- Romaine Hopkins, 36, of Riverhead
- Matthew Pittma, 43, of Southampton
- Kenneth Belcher, 31, of Riverhead
- Kotarra Jackson, 36, of Riverhead
- John Gamble, 37, of Shirley
- Randy Smith, 33, of Riverhead
- Deon Shorter, 22, of Mastic
- Tramaine Brown, 29, of Jamesport
- Quandol Lewis, 34, of Riverhead
- Demario Weston, 34, of Riverhead
- Dayna Barrow, 35, of Riverhead
- Daniel Harris, 25, of Riverhead
“These individuals, many of whom are affiliated with the Bloods street gang, have spread narcotics in our communities and have preyed upon the addicted. We will continue to target dealers and dedicate resources to fighting this epidemic,” said Geraldine Hart, the Suffolk County Police Commissioner.
The case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime, officials said. It’s a program the Department of Justice reinvigorated in 2017.
The federal cases are being handled by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Division with assistant U.S. attorney’s Nicole Boeckmann and Michael Maffei in charge of prosecution.
Several of those arrested have been charged for various crimes in the past locally. Mr. Gamble was arrested in 2016 for a shooting outside Southside Hospital in Bay Shore. He pleaded guilty to felony charges of criminal possession of a weapon and reckless endangerment in December 2016.
Ms. Jackson was arrested during an East End Drug Task Force investigation in 2017 when police arrested six people. She was also part of a Lewis Street drug bust in 2015 when police arrested multiple people.
Mr. Latney, Mr. Belcher, Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Lewis were also arrested as part of that same bust.
Mr. Pittma was arrested in 2016 for possession of crack cocaine. Mr. Smith was arrested in 2016 on drug charges when police found crack cocaine in his vehicle.
Photo caption: State police outside the Washington Avenue home Wednesday morning. (Rachel Siford photo)
Correction: A previous version of this story said arrests were made at Calverton Hills condominium complex, but that was not confirmed.