Police and prosecutors on Thursday took down three separate drug gangs operating in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, including one that sold crack and powder cocaine across the street from two elementary schools, officials said.
A total of 35 gang members were charged with selling cocaine and samples of heroin to customers, including some who took delivery while they were at restaurants, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news conference announcing the arrests.
One gang was known as the Trinitarios and sold drugs on West 177th Street between Audubon and St. Nicholas Avenues beginning in April 2014, Vance said. Another, smaller group run by Edickson Garcia, 27, sold powdered cocaine a block farther north, according to investigators.
A third conspiracy involved a group of five people who worked out of an apartment on St. Nicholas Avenue and delivered to customers outside local Dominican businesses such as restaurants and bakeries whose owners were unaware of the trafficking, said Vance.
While the groups operated near each other, Vance said they seemed to have no turf disputes as they sold drugs. Daily sales for the groups ranged from $1,300 to as much as $15,000, police said.
"They had learned, like cancers, to live close together and grow up," Vance said.
The Trinitarios operation used Garcia, Melvin Beltre, 34, and Garis Retances, 29, all of Manhattan, as key cocaine distributors, prosecutors said. The group sold crack to dozens of customers each day across the street from two elementary schools located at 586 W. 177th St., officials said. Things got so bad that school officials decided to close exits to their buildings to prevent children from seeing the drug dealing, Vance said.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said that while the city is not experiencing the level of outdoor drug dealing seen in the 1980s and 1990s, it still remains a problem in some of the poorer areas of the city. Bratton also said, as he has in the past, that police often find guns in connection with marijuana operations.