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August 6, 2014
Contact: Public Information Officer
Number: 212-337-2906

Former Buffalo Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Operating a Large Scale Marijuana Grow Operation

AUG 06 (BUFFALO, N.Y.) - U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Jorge Melendez, 42, of Buffalo, N.Y., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture more than 100 marijuana plants. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum of 40, a fine of $5,000,000 or both.   

“This defendant - while on duty - violated both his oath and the law by participating in a drug operation." Regrettably, this is the second police officer to be convicted of or sentenced for such conduct in the past several weeks. While the vast majority of officers deserve our highest praise for keeping us safe each and every day, cases such as this send a strong message to all that any abuse of the badge will be vigorously prosecuted.”    

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric M. Opanga, who is handling the case, stated that on May 31, 2012, Melendez, along with co-defendants Jason Elardo and Robert Osika, were arrested after a long term investigation into a large scale marijuana grow operation at three locations. Specifically, Melendez and Elardo maintained a marijuana grow operation at a warehouse located at 2157 South Park Ave. in Buffalo.  During the course of an investigation into the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, law enforcement officers installed hidden surveillance equipment on the second floor of the South Park Ave. warehouse where a grow operation was located. A review of surveillance video showed Melendez and Elardo tending to over 100 marijuana plants.

Prior to installing cameras inside the warehouse, officers monitored the outside of the building, also using surveillance cameras. Melendez was observed arriving in a Buffalo Police patrol car, while on duty, and entering and exiting the location. The defendant worked in the Buffalo Police Department's "D" District, however the warehouse is located in the "A" District.

The outside surveillance cameras also observed Elardo entering the warehouse on a daily basis to tend to the marijuana grow operation. In addition, officers obtained credit card information indicating that Elardo purchased equipment used to sustain an indoor hydroponic marijuana grow operation. The equipment included a dehumidifier and filters.     

At one point during the investigation, officers observed a police badge and credentials belonging to Melendez inside the warehouse. Melendez claimed to have previously lost the badge and identification.   

On May 31, 2012, two additional locations were found to contain grow operations.  A warehouse located at 1372 Clinton Street in Buffalo and a residence located at 76 West Woodside, both owned by Jason and third co-defendant Gale Elardo, were found to contain a marijuana grow operation. The residence also was found to contain marijuana packaged for sale and two firearms.

Defendants Osika and Gale Elardo have been convicted and are awaiting sentenced. Jason Elardo is deceased.

The plea is the culmination of an investigation on the part of Investigators of the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Michael Cerretto, the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of James J. Hunt, Acting Special Agent in Charge, New York Field Division, special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Buffalo Police Department under the direction of Commission Daniel Derenda.

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