Federal agents on Tuesday announced the largest heroin seizure in New York State history and the fourth largest in the United States, with agents hauling off at least $50 million worth of heroin likely smuggled here by Mexico's powerful Sinaloa Cartel, officials said.
The 154-pound stash was recovered Sunday from a car and apartment near the ultraexclusive Fieldston neighborhood in the Bronx.
Agents also seized over $2 million in cash while arresting the leader and three members of the sophisticated drug trafficking syndicate that received monthly shipments from Sinaloa suppliers in Culiacan, Mexico, where the infamous cartel is based, officials said.
Most of the heroin currently sold on Long Island and across the five boroughs is brought into the United States by Sinaloa, the world's largest, richest drug-trafficking organization, officials said. Some of the heroin seized Sunday was likely earmarked for lower-level dealers in Nassau and Suffolk, officials said.
"To put it in perspective, this load was so large it carried the potential of supplying a dose of heroin to every man, woman and child in New York City," said Bridget Brennan, New York City's special narcotics prosecutor. "While this important seizure stopped a huge amount of heroin from flooding our city, it also highlights the critical need to intercept heroin before it ever reaches our region."
The seizure followed a yearlong investigation by Brennan's office and the DEA's New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, which culminated on Sunday when agents arrested the head of the trafficking organization, Jose A. Mercedes, also known as "Hippie," and a second member of the syndicate, Yenci Cruz, officials said. Both are charged with operating as a major trafficker and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Two other members of the organization -- Mercedes' son, Jose Mercedes Jr., and Juan Infante -- were arrested in November as part of the same probe, officials said.
In the days leading up to Sunday's seizure, authorities said they intercepted phone conversations suggesting the organization was expecting delivery of a large load of heroin over the weekend.
Agents set up surveillance outside an address in the 200 block of West 251st Street, near Fieldston, where the organization was suspected of maintaining a stash apartment, officials said.
They followed several vehicles at the location to New Jersey, then back to the Bronx, where they found heroin inside a hidden compartment in Mercedes Sr.'s Kia Sorrento, officials said.
A hidden compartment also was found under the floorboard of Cruz's Chevy Suburban, officials said. Inside, agents found 70 rectangular-shaped, kilogram-sized packages of heroin labeled "Rolex," along with $24,000 cash.
Agents also searched several at apartments associated with the group. Inside one of those units agents found $2 million in cash underneath the floorboards, officials said.
Mercedes Sr. and Francisco were arraigned in criminal court in Manhattan Sunday and held without bail.
Prosecutors charged Mercedes Jr. and Infante with criminal possession of a controlled substance and criminal use of drug paraphernalia. Arraignment information on the pair was not immediately available.
Lawyers for the four men could not immediately be reached for comment.