Written by Jon Hand
For months, plastic-wrapped bricks of cocaine — $1 million worth per month — flowed from Florida through New York City and onto Rochester’s streets via a concrete pipeline of highways and a “drive-through” type distribution operation so sophisticated the operators used tricked-out vehicles and military-style license plates to throw off detection.
They even stamped their product with a brand — enjoined circles identical to the logo of the car maker Audi — in a sign of brashness.
Not anymore, New York state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Wednesday, announcing the arrest of 28 people and the seizure of 35 kilograms of cocaine, $750,000 cash, eight illegal weapons and five vehicles.
With a street value of nearly $3 million, it’s the biggest drug bust of its kind in at least a decade, he said.
“This massive illegal drug operation infected our neighborhoods by bringing in $1 million of cocaine to Rochester each month, but now it’s shut down for good,” Schneiderman said.
Called “Operation Snowbird” to reflect the path the drugs took from Florida to here, the yearlong investigation began during street-level busts in Rochester, Schneiderman said.
Estanislao “Kiki” M. Martinez, 48, of Albion, and his nephew, Sergio E. Michel, 35, of New York City, were called the ringleaders of the operation.
Martinez was the brains in Rochester; Michel the “muscle” in New York City, Schneiderman said.
Both will be charged under the state’s Operating as a Major Trafficker statute, or “kingpin” law, which could carry a life sentence in prison.
Under the law, a kingpin is someone who oversees the sale of more than $75,000 in drugs over six months.
Martinez is the first person in this area to be charged under the statute that took effect Nov. 1, 2009, said Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green.
About 15 people from the Rochester area were rounded up Tuesday and Wednesday and charged with felony counts of criminal sale and criminal possession of a controlled substance, officials said. The rest are from New York City, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Those arrested include family members, such as Martinez and Michel, and range in age from Xavier Quintana, 19, of Rochester, to Felix Noguel-Lopez, 69, of Florida.
Joined by New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico, Schneiderman and Rochester police Chief James Sheppard said the operation had six primary distribution sites in the area, and customers came from inside and outside the city.
One distribution site was so efficient that investigators described it like a “fast-food drive-thru” operation in which the drugs were accounted for before they arrived from the South.
“So much of what you see on this table is the root cause of the violence we see in all of our urban environments across the state,” Sheppard said, referring to a table laid out with cocaine and guns. “I know…so much of that violence is tied to illicit drugs and contraband.”
Though the investigation began locally, it led investigators to New York City and Florida, where the drugs were prepared, stamped and shipped north in vehicles altered to throw off inspections during traffic stops.
In a large luxury car, for example, one of the gas tanks was removed to make room for drugs to be stored. The driver kept a full plastic gas can in the trunk to reduce the number of stops he had to make at the gas station, Schneiderman said.
On Wednesday, officials showed off a sporty silver BMW that has been altered to carry drugs behind the back seat. A small air freshener still sat in the spot where the drugs were carried — an attempt to throw police dogs off the scent of the drugs.
“But they never throw off the dogs,” one investigator said.
A 38-count indictment charges 28 individuals with a variety of charges, primarily felony criminal sale and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Yuliana Acevedo, 28, Bronx.
Addiel Perez Carralero, 41, Hialeah, Fla.
Miguel A. Carrion, 26, Rochester.
Cristino Cruz, 26, Rochester.
Yuri Garcia-Dominguez, 39, Hialeah, Fla.
Jose Guzman, 44, Washington Heights.
Jose Heredia, 38, Rochester.
Angela Irene, 42, Albion.
Estanislao M. “Kiki” Martinez, 48, Albion.
Shawn R. Martinez, 26, Rochester.
Luis Mas, 45, Key Largo, Fla.
Enrique “Rick” Medina II, 20, Rochester.
Sergio E. Michel, 35, New York City.
Manuel Mojena, 52, Miramar, Fla.
Michaela A. Nicolas-Ferrer, 42, Rochester.
Felix Noguel, 40, Miami.
Felix Noguel-Lopez, 69, Miami.
Gilbert Ortiz, 34, New York City.
Angel Ortiz-Correa, 26, Rochester.
Victor Pagan, 19, Rochester.
Xavier Quintana, 18, Rochester.
Mariannie Rivera, 25, Rochester.
Mario R. Rivera, 19, Rochester.
Felicita E. Rodriquez, 29, New York City.
Jose Javier Rodriguez-Seda, 31, Lebanon, Pa.
Rene Rojas, 43, Miami.
Sherrod G. Sanders, 37, Rochester.
Theodore R. Webster Jr., 35, Rochester.