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NY AG: Cracked, Busted Drug Ring Includes Ex-Cop

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday revealed indictments against 20 alleged members and associates of a Troy-based gang (including an ex-Watervliet police officer) on charges they operated a high-volume drug trafficking ring.

During the year-long investigation, dubbed "Operation Trojan Horse," Schneiderman says a team of investigators seized more than 1,000 grams of cocaine with an approximate street value of $100,000 and more than 100 bags of heroin and more than an ounce of raw heroin with an approximate street value of $14,000, according to the 249 counts in the felony indictments unsealed tuesday in Rensselaer Supreme Court.

According to the indictments, the narcotics distribution ring was operated out of Troy by a gang called the Young Gunnerz, the largest provider of cocaine, heroin, and illegal prescription drugs in the city. "This was a very violent gang. These folks were shooters. The leader of the gang was a 21-year old Troy resident named Daquan Murray. Mr. Murray was known as “Benji Got the Juice” - well, we've got Benji, and he ain't got no juice anymore," said Schneiderman.

Gang members and their associates allegedly purchased large quantities of drugs from an unknown supplier in the Bronx, and then brought the narcotics back to Troy for distribution throughout Albany County, Rensselaer County, Saratoga County and elsewhere in and outside of New York State.

The A.G. says 29-year old Watervliet police officer Nicholas Pontore allegedly purchased large quantities of cocaine from the drug ring on an almost daily basis.  "The indictments allege the actually purchased drugs while on duty, in uniform, and in his patrol car. We know of more than 150 communications between Mr. Pontore and his drug dealers in the Young Gunnerz, and Mr. Pontore is being charged with conspiracy an dmultiple counts of official misconduct and drug possession."

Pontore resigned from the police force in late June. Scheneiderman could not say if that happened because Pontore got wind of the drug probe.

Police chiefs in Troy and Albany believe the fall of the Young Gunnerz may halt the street violence both cities have suffered in recent years.  A popular rap video called "Sending Shots" was filmed in Troy. One of the rappers mentions his "gunners" and a ride to Albany's Second Street and Lexington Avenue, a gang "hotspot." Troy police chief John Tedesco: "These indictments are directly related to the violence in Troy. The group that you're seeing here that were indicted are directly responsible for the vast majority of gun violence in the city of Troy.

Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox agrees:  "We learned early on that with case going on in Troy that we knew that there was a nexus between Albany and Troy with some of the violence going back and forth, that there was some individuals from Troy coming over to Albany causing violence and that there carrying over some retaliatory violence into the city of Troy. And that's when we signed on and this is a really good day because it take a lot of those violent individuals off the street."

The A.G. says most of the twenty are in custody - authorities are on the lookout for the rest. The defendants face maximum sentences between 9 and 24 years in prison, depending on the individual’s criminal history. Pontore faces more than five years in prison.

The Organized Crime Task Force has now taken down 25 large drug trafficking gangs, made more than 580 felony narcotics arrests, and seized more than $1.5 million and more than 2,000 pounds of illegal drugs.

Here is the full list of individuals charged in the investigation:

  • Daquan Murray, a/k/a “Benji Got the Juice”, 21, Troy, NY
  • Craige Centra, 23, Watervliet, NY
  • Derek Dunbar, a/k/a “D”, 18, Troy, NY
  • Leamon Grady, 43, Troy, NY
  • Darnell Marable, a/k/a “Fatz”, 38, Troy, NY
  • Melanie Melendez, 25, Albany, NY
  • Asjmere Powell, a/k/a “Prime”, 28, Troy, NY
  • James Royer, “Jimmy”, a/k/a “BK”, 26, Troy, NY
  • Rashad Thomas, a/k/a “Shotty”, 24, Troy, NY
  • Karrice Bowen, a/k/a “Auntie”, 38, Albany, NY
  • Jaquetta Exum, 21, Albany, NY
  • Kenneth Ford, a/k/a “Kenny”, 25, Waterford, NY
  • Andrew Hernandez, a/k/a “A”, 18, Brooklyn, NY
  • Donald Kodadar, a/k/a “Donnie” “DJ”, 25, Watervliet, NY
  • Joshua Lewis, a/k/a “Shellz”, 25, Watervliet, NY
  • Zyjee Lind, a/k/a “Fredo”, 21, Troy, NY
  • Coty O’Keefe, 28, Cohoes, NY
  • Nicholas Pontore, 29, Watervliet, NY
  • Javen Smith, 17, Troy, NY
  • Thaddeus Steed, a/k/a “TJ”, 24, Troy, NY

"Thanks to the hard work and partnership of law enforcement at the state and local level, we are taking out a violent operation that was supplying dangerous drugs throughout the Capital Region,” New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said. “We will continue to aggressively pursue criminals who profit from illegal drugs at the expense of the safety and security of our neighborhoods.”

State investigators also seized three handguns during the investigation. As outlined in indictments, members of the Young Gunnerz allegedly drove to Albany on April 19 and fired several shots at rival gang members in an attempt to intimidate them.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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