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Press Release

With Sharp Rise In Fatal Drug Overdoses In Erie County During The Past Month, Buffalo Man Arrested And Charged With Heroin Possession Following Months Of Surveillance

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of New York

CONTACT: Barbara Burns
PHONE: (716) 843-5817
FAX #: (716) 551-3051

BUFFALO, N.Y. – U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that James Terrell, 35, of Buffalo, NY, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin. The charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life, and a $10,000,000 fine.

“Lately, with the pandemic, we have heard a great deal about mortality rates,” stated United States Attorney Kennedy. “Since March 1st in Erie County, we have had 110 documented drug overdoses which have resulted in the deaths of 36 individuals—for a death rate of 33%—one-third of all individuals who have overdosed in Erie County since March 1st have died. I think we need to consider the role that social isolation coupled with non-stop reporting on the pandemic may have on the feelings of desperation and hopelessness among those struggling with substance abuse. Amidst the current crisis, we need to remember that substance abuse existed long before COVID-19, and it will likely remain long after we have wiped out the virus. Not only has the time come to credit those brave men and women working in the medical, healthcare, and law enforcement communities as they do their best, in the face of deadly threats, to preserve public health and safety, but the time has also come for all of us to recognize that the job is not theirs alone to do. Only when personal responsibility overtakes public panic as the impetus for individual and collective action can we optimize our ability to recognize and overcome the greatest threats we face.”

“It’s unconscionable that drug traffickers would continue to distribute their deadly poison in our communities in the midst of a public health crisis,” said Kevin Kelly, Special Agent-in-Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “These reckless actions only serve to deepen the resolve of HSI, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, and our partners to protect our communities against the multitude of threats that exist today.” 

“I am extremely pleased that my Narcotics Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations were able to complete an investigation and arrest another drug dealer in our community,” said Sheriff Timothy B. Howard. “Unfortunately, these peddlers of death are taking advantage of people at a very vulnerable time. With increasing stress levels and isolation, drug dealers are preying on people, and law enforcement won’t stand for it. That is why we will continue our efforts during this pandemic to ensure our residents’ health and safety.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Adler, who is handling the case against Terrell, stated that according to the complaint, in 2019, Homeland Security Investigations learned that the defendant was engaged in an exchange of bulk U.S. currency. Subsequent surveillance revealed that Terrell changed vehicles multiple times. On August 20, 2019, around 1:05 p.m., the Erie County Sherriff’s Office executed a vehicle and traffic stop of the defendant in the vicinity of East Delavan Avenue and Grider Street in Buffalo. During the traffic stop, a K9 dog detected the odor of narcotics on the rear passenger side door. A search warrant was executed on the vehicle and resulted in the seizure of $80,110 in cash and two cellular telephones.

During subsequent surveillance, HSI Special Agents observed Terrell operating additional vehicles, a common tactic deployed by drug traffickers in an effort to avoid law enforcement surveillance and detection. In addition, during the course of the surveillance, investigators conducted a controlled purchase of fentanyl from the defendant. On April 9, 2020, HSI Special Agents conducting surveillance observed Terrell’s vehicle parked on Earl Place in Buffalo. At approximately 2:00 p.m., they observed a delivery driver park in front of a residence on Earl Place and place a large brown box on the porch of the residence. A short time later, agents observed the defendant leave the same residence carrying a package. Terrell was observed at the trunk of his vehicle for approximately 30 seconds, he then got into the vehicle and drove away. Buffalo Police then conducted a traffic stop a few blocks away.

A search warrant was executed on the vehicle. During the search, investigators recovered a brick like object from the trunk, compactly taped and hidden within sweatpants. Examination of the brick revealed several additional layers of tape and wrappings. Underneath the taping and wrapping was a thinly green taped brick with the words “Arco Tijuana” written on it in marker. Field testing determined the brick contained suspected heroin.

The complaint is the result of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy Howard; and the Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Commissioner Byron Lockwood.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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Updated April 10, 2020

Drug Trafficking