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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges 13 Members and Associates of Lower East Side Narcotics Organization with Narcotics and Firearms Offenses

DEC 21 (MANHATTAN, N.Y.)  Brian R. Crowell, Special Agent in Charge, New York Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and United States Attorney, Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner of the Police Department for the City of New York (NYPD) announced yesterday the unsealing of an Indictment in Manhattan federal court charging 13 members and associates of a drug trafficking organization (the “Organization”) operating in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses. Of the defendants charged, 11 were arrested today and a 12th defendant was already in custody on state charges, and will be transferred to federal custody. One defendant remains at large. The defendants arrested today were presented in Manhattan federal court before United States District Judge Thomas P. Griesa, to whom the case has been assigned.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian R. Crowell said: “Whenever a police officer is shot, it affects all those in harm’s way who protect our public. After the shooting of Police Officer Brian Grove last July, DEA immediately offered our New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (NYDETF) resources and experience that the REDRUM Unit offers. The REDRUM Team in the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force consists of agents and detectives of the NYPD, DEA and New York State Police and is tasked with identifying violent drug traffickers. The NYPD and the NYDETF worked collaboratively and identified and arrested thirteen members of an alleged drug distribution organization in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the same area that Officer Groves was wounded.”

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Today, an alleged armed drug gang has been taken off the streets, and through extraordinary investigative work, the firearm, which based on ballistics testing was allegedly used in an attempt to kill a police officer has been obtained. This Office working with our law enforcement partners sprang into action after the shooting to get us to this point, but our work is not done. We will not stop until all the responsible parties are made to answer for their conduct.”

NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said: “The nexus between guns and drugs is well known, as is the danger they pose to the public and police alike. I want to commend the police officers, detectives, and prosecutors who pulled together in the wake of the shooting of Officer Brian Groves to track down and prosecute those engaged in selling drugs and the gun used to shoot him.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment filed in Manhattan federal court, other publicly filed documents, and statements made in court earlier today:

Since at least 2007, the Organization has operated primarily in and around the buildings at 154 Broome Street, 410 Grand Street and 64 Essex Street in Manhattan (the “Lower East Side buildings”). The Organization was run by Richard Franco, who directed, managed or otherwise supervised members and associates of the Organization – including Lazarus Franco, Latwon Garcia, Damien Girdner, Fuquan Jones, George Lauriano, John Lauriano, Jason Rosario, Kenneth Siders, Ismael Sidibe, Rasheen Smith, Jose Valette, and Luke Woolfolk. The members and associates conducted hand-to-hand transactions of cocaine, crack cocaine, and oxycodone pills in the Lower East Side buildings and the surrounding area. During at least some of these transactions, the Organization members carried firearms.

The investigation into the Organization began after the July 2012 shooting of NYPD Officer Brian Groves who was performing a patrol of the stairway of 64 Essex Street when he observed an individual holding a gun on the 23rd floor staircase landing. The individual turned and ran down the stairs, and when Officer Groves pursued and confronted him, the individual shot one bullet into Officer Groves. He survived. As part of the investigation, two undercover NYPD officers made approximately 25 buys of cocaine and crack cocaine from various members of the Organization. In September 2012, the undercover officers bought a gun from a member of the Organization that, based on ballistics analysis, is the same gun that was used to shoot Officer Groves.

The investigation also included the court-authorized interception of phone calls and text messages to and from Franco’s cellular telephone, as well as the review of surveillance video cameras installed outside the Organization’s primary stash locations in 154 Broome Street. Together, the intercepted calls and surveillance video captured countless drug transactions involving Franco and the other charged defendants.

All 13 members and associates of the Organization are charged with one count of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute, cocaine, crack cocaine and oxycodone from about 2007 up to about December 2012. Five of these defendants are also charged with one count of using, carrying, and possessing firearms during the narcotics conspiracy.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the NYPD and the DEA, and added that the investigation is continuing. He also thanked the New York State Police.

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Violent Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Krissoff, Andrew Bauer and Santosh Aravind are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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