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Drug Ring Tied To Mexican Suppliers

February 2, 2005
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer

The tentacles of a huge crack cocaine ring halted recently in Hartford's North End reached all the way to Mexico, where the leaders of the ring had arranged to deliver 50 to 100 kilograms of cocaine per month to local suppliers, according to government documents unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

While federal and city officials were announcing the arrests of 48 of 52 suspects Tuesday afternoon, the effect of the crackdown was not evident on many Hartford street corners. Dozens of men suspected of dealing illegal drugs appeared to be doing business as usual.

Hattie Harris and Elaine Hightower, both residents of Vine Street in Hartford's North End, only had to go to their windows Tuesday evening to see teenagers, who they suspected of drug dealing, loitering outside their buildings.

The trouble is as the night grows colder, the teenagers come inside to sell illegal drugs, the women said.

"I don't see a difference" or a slowdown in drug dealings, said Harris, since the bulk of the arrests were made in November and December. "I think it's a great thing what they did. But you've got many more [alleged dealers] over on Albany Avenue and Sigourney Street. At least they are making a new beginning. What about phase two and phase three? I'll be watching to see what they are doing," Harris said.

The fact that the byproduct of drug dealing is often violence became clear Tuesday morning when Hightower walked into her front room and spotted a bullethole in her window. "I looked up there and I said, `My God. ... The bullet came right through my window.' I stood there for about a half an hour. I couldn't believe it. It scared me, but what am I going to do?"

U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said earlier Tuesday federal officials successfully teamed up with Hartford police, and the Northern Connecticut Violent Crime Task Force to put a dent in the city's crack cocaine drug trade. He acknowledged the problem hasn't been solved.

"We are not naïve enough to think that we've stopped the drugs. ... As long as there is a demand, there will be people who will supply that demand," O'Connor said.

Nevertheless, O'Connor said, the crackdown, dubbed "Operation Big Boy," was a huge success.

"We haven't eradicated the drug problem in Connecticut," he said. "But we've dismantled this particular operation. It is a significant accomplishment."

The investigation, which started about 10 months ago, was sparked by an appeal from Hartford police officers Nestor Caraballo and Jose Santiago and others from the department's community response division. They said in part that if something wasn't done about the drug-related violence on Middlefield and East Raymond streets, people could die.

Hartford's request for help resulted in a federal wiretap of nine telephones of suspected drug dealers, who were arrested from November to January. The telephone conversations ultimately helped the team uncover a complicated criminal enterprise operating out of private homes and The Frontline Café and Rodfield Fashions on Albany Avenue.

FBI Special Agents Robert E. Bornstein and William B. Aldenberg took the lead as the wiretaps progressed from lower level street dealers to what O'Connor called the "big fish." Primary members of the network who were charged are Noel Keating, 45, a former state Department of Correction officer from Bloomfield; his wife, Lois Keating, 45, who co-owned the Frontline Café on Albany Avenue; and Richard Carter, 39, and Negus Forrester, 27, both of Hartford. Four others, Clayton Robinson, 23, Ricardo Fuller, 23, Michael Jaramillo, 29, and Kenneth "Chucky" Powell, 31, are still at large and wanted on federal narcotics charges, O'Connor said.

Federal authorities say Noel Keating and Carter were at the top of the crack cocaine ladder, because they provided the space where powder cocaine was transformed into crack, O'Connor said. But the source of the enterprise was far away from Connecticut.

O'Connor and federal court documents unsealed Tuesday said that Gilberto Soto, 34, North Hollywood, Calif., and his partner, only referred to as "Temo," supplied the cocaine from Mexico.

At the time of his arrest on Jan. 26, Soto was transporting 16 kilograms of powder cocaine hidden in a mini-van en route to Hartford, government records show. He was arrested in Wallingford after he was lured into the state by undercover agents tipped off about his connection to the network, federal court papers show.

According to federal court papers, Soto, known as "Gil," and Temo became the new targets of the complicated drug sting in November.

At the time, Soto and a supplier in Hartford, who was not identified, had just started to discuss the purchase of 10 kilograms of cocaine. Law enforcement agents took advantage of that relationship and used telephone wiretaps to arrange the possible shipment of 50 to 100 kilograms of cocaine to Hartford each month, records show.

By Dec. 1, a government informant and an undercover officer met with Soto in New York, who confirmed that "everything was ready in Mexico in order to begin delivering large quantities of cocaine" to the informant in Hartford. Twenty-two days later, under FBI surveillance, the undercover officer purchased one kilogram of cocaine for $21,000, records show.

After the purchase, authorities set up an additional buy, and Soto was caught in Wallingford allegedly bringing the cocaine to Hartford, records show.

At a press conference on Tuesday, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul S. White said the FBI is committed to "attacking street crime and drugs-related violence."

Meanwhile, Hightower said she will keep monitoring the halls of her apartment building.

"Could y'all please leave?" she said she'll keep saying. "I just walk the buildings, I just ask them to leave."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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