Three men from Niagara Falls were among 12 arrested in the crackdown on a drug trafficking operation that law enforcement officials said brought cocaine to Western New York from Puerto Rico.
Investigation led to the seizure of approximately 7.5 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value exceeding $500,000, along with more than $123,000 cash, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Ray Donovan, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New York division, announced on Thursday.
The year-long investigation, code-named “Operation Cataracts,” brought together the resources of state, federal, and local law enforcement agents led by the New York Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force, in partnership with the DEA’s Buffalo District Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Niagara Falls Police Department and the Erie County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit. The investigation included covert surveillance and hundreds of hours of wiretaps.
Investigators discovered that kilograms of cocaine were being mailed from Puerto Rico to members of the drug ring in various locations throughout Western New York. The cocaine was then delivered to others to process and sell, and cash proceeds were sent back to Puerto Rico.
Approximately four kilograms of cocaine were seized in packages mailed from Puerto Rico to various locations in Buffalo, and investigators also seized a package containing approximately $38,290 that Felix DeLeon Ortiz attempted to send to a supplier in Puerto Rico.
The indictment states the central figure in the trafficking network, Joel Calderon, bought and sold cocaine to numerous individuals in the region. Calderon primarily purchased cocaine from Rafael Martinez, but when Martinez did not have supplies, he also bought it from another Buffalo resident, Jose Torres a/k/a “Smokey.” Calderon then sold cocaine to Shawn Armstrong and numerous other resellers.
Wiretaps captured numerous conversations between Armstrong, Martinez, Calderon, Torres, and others as they ordered quantities of cocaine and made arrangements for the delivery of the narcotics for resale. Calderon, Martinez, and Torres are all charged as Operating as a Major Trafficker, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
The 155-count indictment — unsealed Thursday in Erie County Court — charges 12 individuals with various crimes in relation to their involvement in the narcotics trafficking operation, including operating as a major trafficker, criminal sale and criminal possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy.
Among those charged in the unsealed indictment are Niagara Falls residents: Shawn Armstrong, 47; Corey Floyd, 47; and Gregory Pryor, 35.