Defendants Funneled Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars’ Worth of Fentanyl-Laced Heroin and Other Narcotics into Finger Lakes Region.
New York, NY - April 23, 2018 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the sentencings of the leaders of a major drug trafficking ring that distributed massive quantities of fentanyl-laced heroin and other narcotics from New York City throughout the Finger Lakes Region, including Schuyler, Tioga, and Tompkins Counties.
Jose Polanco, a/k/a “Pito”, of New York City, was sentenced today in Tioga County Court to 10 years in state prison followed by five years of post-release supervision, based upon his prior plea to Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, a class A-II felony. Arthur Erskine a/k/a “Wise” was sentenced on March 8, 2018 in Tioga County Court to 12 years in state prison followed by five years of post-release supervision, based upon his prior plea to Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree, a class A-I felony. Both defendants were sentenced by Tioga County Court Judge Gerald A. Keene.
“These sentences should send a clear message to those dealing death in our communities – we will find you and prosecute you,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The opioid and heroin epidemic continues to devastate families and communities across New York, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to hold those responsible accountable.”
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Un-Wise”, included hundreds of hours of physical surveillance and wiretapping, as well as the execution of numerous search warrants in New York City, Ithaca, and Tioga County. During the course of the wiretapping, conspirators frequently utilized coded and cryptic terminology in an attempt to disguise their illicit narcotics trafficking, such as referring to the heroin that they were peddling as “movies." On March 12, 2017, members of nine different law enforcement agencies executed search warrants on eight different residences throughout New York State, including two locations in Manhattan, one in Queens, four in Tompkins County, and one in Tioga County. Among items seized during the execution of those search warrants included more than one kilogram of heroin, dozens of grams of cocaine, fourteen handguns, one MAC-11 machine pistol, and narcotics-related paraphernalia.
In May 2017, a Tioga County Grand Jury handed up a 229-count indictment charging 31 defendants with crimes related to heroin trafficking. All individuals that were charged have now pled guilty, with the exception of the two defendants who are wanted on active arrest warrants.
Operation Unwise was an investigation led by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) as part of the Attorney General’s SURGE (Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic) Initiative, a targeted crackdown on New York’s growing – and often violent – heroin, opioid, and narcotics trafficking networks operating in upstate and suburban communities.
Since it launched in April 2017, the Attorney General’s SURGE Initiative has taken down nine major drug trafficking rings across New York – resulting in 302 traffickers taken off the streets.
In addition to prosecuting major drug trafficking rings, Attorney General Schneiderman’s multi-levered strategy to tackle New York’s evolving opioid epidemic includes:
Obtaining settlements with major national and global health insurers including Cigna and Anthem, which insure over 4 million New Yorkers, to remove barriers to life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder. The agreements put an end to the insurers’ policy of requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment (“MAT”), which can lead to significant delays for patients seeking relief from addiction.
Creating the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (“I-STOP),a series of enhancements to New York’s prescription drug monitoring program that provide doctors with patient’s up-to-date controlled substance prescription history and established a safe disposal program providing a place for New Yorkers to get rid of expired and unneeded drugs—thus reducing the likelihood of stolen and forged prescriptions being used to obtain controlled substances from pharmacies. I-STOP reduced “doctor shopping,” a practice in which an individual attempts to obtain the same or similar prescriptions from multiple physicians, by 90% since 2014.
Launching the Community Overdose Prevention (“COP”) program, a life-saving initiative that enabled state and local law-enforcement officers in the state of New York to carry naloxone, the extremely effective heroin antidote that can immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Since the program’s implementation in April 2014, more than 100 overdoses were reversed using kits provided by the COP program, which distributed over 27,000 kits across the state.
Obtaining an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to cut and cap the price of naloxone for all agencies in New York State, reducing the price of naloxone by nearly 20 percent.
Enforcing Mental Health Parity Laws to reach agreements with six health insurance companies, requiring them to implement sweeping reforms in their administration of behavioral health benefits, in particular relating to medical management practices, coverage of residential treatment for substance abuse, and co-pays for outpatient treatment, and to submit regular compliance reports. The agreements ultimately provided millions of dollars in penalties and over $2 million in restitution for members whose claims for were improperly denied.
Successfully prosecuting more than ten licensed prescribers including operators of “pill mills” and other unlawful practices for crimes related to improper opioid prescriptions.
Urging health insurance companies to review their coverage and payment policies that contribute to the opioid epidemic, as well as sending letters to the country’s three largest pharmacy benefit managers requesting documents, data, and other information regarding how they are addressing the opioid crisis.
The investigation was directed by New York State Police Investigator John Ward and Ithaca Police Investigator Kevin McKenna, under the supervision of Senior Investigator Jeffrey Gotschall and assistance of Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) Senior Investigator William Charles, and Deputy Chief Investigator Gene Black, under the supervision of Chief Dominick Zarrella. The Ithaca Police Department’s involvement was directed by Lt. Michael Nelson, under the supervision of Chief of Police Peter Tyler.
The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Andrew McElwee. Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff runs the Organized Crime Task Force. Margaret Garnett is the Attorney General’s Executive for the Criminal Division.