New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a 172-count indictment charging 16 members of a drug trafficking ring operating in the Hudson Valley on Tuesday. Several of those arrested are alleged to be members of a gang that has plagued Newburgh streets.
Schneiderman says “Operation Yellow Brick Road” was named in part because of alleged ringleader Damion Jackson’s street name “Toe-Toe”:
“This was a sophisticated operation based in the City of Newburgh but they sold drugs in counties all around Newburgh, stamping their heroin with brand names including Public Enemy, Focus, Shine and X-Men,” Schneiderman says. “Their supply lines extended to New York City for heroin and Paterson, New Jersey, for cocaine.”
He says efforts to uncover and dismantle the drug ring went far.
“We made extensive use of wiretaps, hidden cameras, and surveillance, GPS devices, physical surveillance,” says Schneiderman. “We had undercover agents and cooperating witnesses.”
The Democrat says all members were apprehended. Of the 16 charged, 14 are from Newburgh, one from Poughkeepsie and the other from Paterson, New Jersey. Each faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Schneiderman says that when his office was executing arrest warrants Tuesday morning, it allegedly found one of the defendants flushing large quantities of cocaine down a toilet, and the toilet was overflowing. Regarding the takedown:
“And, as a result, that gang that supplied more than 200 daily customers with cocaine and heroin is out of business, and many of the customers of this drug ring were themselves drug dealers,” Schneiderman says. “So this was really a vast network dealing death throughout the Hudson River Valley.”
Schneiderman says several of the defendants named in Tuesday’s indictment are alleged to be members of the 600 Gang, a violent street gang that has plagued the streets of Newburgh for the past several years. Newburgh Acting Police Chief Lieutenant Aaron Weaver says this latest takedown will have an impact on the city, as there is a connection between violent crime and drug trafficking.
“And this 600 group in the latest sweep, they are drug traffickers and they do drug trafficking, but a lot of their street-level members are also a driver of our violent crime,” says Weaver. “So, a lot of times, we use the drug trafficking as a way to assist with getting the violent crime members off the street. So they’re both directly correlated.”
He says the 600 Gang members were the most recent group targeted in Newburgh. Weaver says the latest statistics show crime in the city has gone down, and busting violent drug traffickers is a contributing factor.
“Throughout the city in 2017, we saw a great reduction in crime from 2016 and, also, most of the reductions are below our five-year averages,” says Weaver. “In 2017, one of the biggest reductions we had was a 65 percent reduction in both the body shootings — we went from 48 shootings to 17 — and our violent crime and our Part 1 crimes all reduced in double digits also.”
He says 43 handguns and 37 long guns were removed from the street. As for the takedowns, Weaver refers to “call-ins.”
“We’ve had takedowns on the Yellow Tape Money Gang, the Southside group, and this is the 600 group, and also the 118 Street William group,” Weaver says. “These are all in response to our call-ins because these have been the most violent groups, they’re either the most violent or they’ve committed the last homicide, so we’re just keeping our word that if you keep up the violence, we’re going to come after your group.”
He says the benefits of the city’s Group Violence initiative, the call-ins, are starting to pay off.
“We actually call in members that are on probation and parole of these violent groups, and we are straightforward with them and then we tell them that if you don’t stop the violence that we’re going to use our law enforcement team, which includes state and federal members, to target them because of the violence," Weaver says. "But then, in the second half of the call-in, we actually bring in social service providers and say, if you want to get out of this lifestyle, we’re also going to give you the help that you want.”
“We know our investigations and prosecutions have crippled some of the most violent and prolific drug gangs in our state. We also know that you can’t arrest your way out of a drug epidemic,” Schneiderman says. “Prosecutions alone will not end this crisis, and we’re very much committed to a multi-layered response.”
For example, helping to train and supply law enforcement officials across the state with Nalaxone to reverse an overdose. Schneiderman also mentions the iStop, or “Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act” program, which launched in 2013.
“And we are now part of a multi-state investigation into whether pharmaceutical companies themselves engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and distribution of opioids,” says Schneiderman.
Schneiderman says “Operation Yellow Brick Road” is the eighth takedown since he launched the SURGE, or Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic, focused on collaborating with local law enforcement to crack down on drug traffickers in suburban and upstate New York. He says the effort has resulted in taking 288 traffickers off the streets since April 2017.