Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — BUFFALO — For a ring of Niagara County drug dealers, it was all about the shoes.
Investigators with the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force and the New York State Police say the group trafficked cocaine from Florida to Niagara Falls and moved their drugs by stashing them in the heels and soles of shoes that were shipped here by commercial carriers.
At a Tuesday news conference, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman showed off a pair of shoes, with the heels sliced off and a secret compartment for drugs revealed, and said the ring of dealers ran a slick operation.
"It was a well organized gang, it was a big gang," Schneiderman said. "These are people who sold narcotics to vulnerable New Yorkers."
And the Niagara County gang was closely tied to a Genesee County group that dealt both cocaine and prescription drugs. A third drug ring in Erie County, that had contacts with the Niagara and Genesee county gangs, stands accused of selling cocaine, prescription medications and staging illegal cockfights on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation.
A total of 40 people were charged in three separate indictments, with more than 160 combined counts, that were unsealed late Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, 35 of the 40 suspects had been picked up.
Schneiderman and New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said parallel, 18-month-long investigations into the tri-county rings included undercover operations, GPS tracking and hundreds of hours of covert surveillance.
Investigators seized more than $100,000 in cocaine, along with large quantities of prescription pills, several rifles and at least $60,000 in cash. Much of the evidence was laid out on a table next to the attorney general.
The Niagara and Genesee County rings were targeted in an probe code-named Operation Lockport.
Members of those drug rings transported cocaine from Fort Lauderdale to the Falls. The suspects would pack cocaine into the soles and heels of doctored pairs of shoes, then cut up the shoes once in they arrived here to extract the drugs.