BUFFALO -- Eight people, including three Niagara Falls men, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.
The charges were announced by the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York James Kennedy, Jr. and carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine.
Federal drug agents arrested James C. Parks and Lavon Parks, as well as Wayne E. Payne, all of the Falls.
Also arrested were Felix Calderon-Valcarcel, Wilmer Casiano-Perez and Yarimar Berrios Alvarado, each of Lackawanna and Annette Lugo Rodriguez and Vivian Pintado-Figueroa, both of San Juan, Puetro Rico.
Federal prosecutors said the defendants participated in a narcotics conspiracy responsible for distributing cocaine, heroin and fentanyl in the Western New York area. The conspiracy received bulk quantities of cocaine from suppliers in Puerto Rico via the United States Postal Service.
On May 26, 2017, a U.S. postal inspector identified a suspicious package being mailed by Lavon Parks from a post office in San Juan to an address in Niagara Falls. Five days later, a federal search warrant was executed on the suspicious package, which contained a kilogram of cocaine wrapped into a brick and concealed inside a toaster oven.
Investigators said on Nov. 30, 2017, Lavon Parks, James Parks, and Payne were traveling on Interstate 40 in Hickman County, Tennessee, when a law enforcement officer pulled their vehicle over after witnessing several traffic infractions.
James Parks, who was driving, was questioned outside the vehicle and away from the passengers. He told the officers that he was heading back to Niagara Falls from Pensacola, Florida where the men had attended a conference.
Officers became suspicious of Parks’ story because the location of the traffic stop was at least 50 miles west of Nashville and well off the route they should have taken taken if they were really coming from Florida. Parks then changed his story and told officers that he had actually travelled from Florida to Houston to pick up Lavon Parks and Payne after they had called him for a ride.
A rental car agreement, located in the glove compartment of the car, confirmed that James Parks rented the vehicle on Nov. 17, 2017, in Buffalo.
When officers spoke with Payne, he said the trio were heading back to Niagara Falls from Houston after a visit to “setup a landscaping business.” Payne said the three men were only in Houston for “a few hours; like a day or two.”
Lavon Parks told officers the men were traveling from Houston to Niagara Falls and had stayed at the Hilton hotel.
A search of the rental car recovered three-and-a-half kilograms of cocaine in four packages wrapped with plastic and duct tape. The packages were concealed in the spare tire area underneath a cover.
All three men denied knowing about the cocaine. When the packages were opened, officers located two smaller baggies containing crack cocaine.
Between July 2018 and February, investigators seized another 10 ½ kilos of cocaine and $52,000 in cash from packages shipped via the U.S.Postal Service between Puerto Rico and different states in the U.S., including New York, Florida, Alaska, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.
The investigation also involved so-called “sneak and peek” searches of packages containing cash and money orders totaling $55,700.
Prosecutors have charged that Lugo-Rodriguez and Pintado-Figueroa were responsible for shipping bulk quantities of cocaine from Puerto Rico and then receiving payments in the form of money orders and cash for the drugs. In March, Calderon-Valcarcel was observed traveling from his home in Orchard Park to a suspected drug deal. After the vehicle was pulled over, investigators approached and saw him seated in the driver seat counting about $10,000 in cash.
A search of the vehicle resulted in the recovery of a plastic-wrapped kilogram of cocaine. After a second search warrant was executed at the home that Calderon-Valcarcel shares with Berrios-Alvarado, investigators located a large shipping box in the basement, which contained four plastic-wrapped kilograms of cocaine, identical to what was recovered from the trunk of the vehicle.
A firearm was seized from the master bedroom of Calderon-Valcarcel’s home, loaded with a magazine containing 10 rounds of ammunition, according to prosecutors.