On March 14, the cops came for Marc Bonaventure at his home on East Chestnut Street, bagging the Bronx-born ex-con on a parole violation. On March 19, Tyrone “Freaky Ty” Chappelle got into an argument on Broadway. Cops responded, found drugs on him and hauled him off to jail. The next day,Kingston detectives snatched up Cedric “Cedice” Smith-Williams for a parole violation as he sat in a car on Main Street in Rosendale. His girlfriend, Kristine Scibelli, had been arrested on a drug possession charge a few days before.
What none of them knew — but would soon find out — was that they were the first dominoes to fall in a massive police operation which would culminate at 4 a.m. on Saturday, March 31 when 175 cops from local, state and federal agencies rolled out in heavily armed raid teams to round up suspects in what police call the biggest drug sweep in city history.
The raids marked the final act in an investigation which spanned eight months, resulted in 100 arrests and, law enforcement officials hope, blasted a huge hole inKingston’s gang underworld.
What would become known as Operation Clean Sweep started where another notorious incident in the city’s crime annals left off. In February 2010, members of the Sex Money Murder subset of the Bloods gang murdered 21-year-old Charles King Jr. to prevent him from testifying about a gang shooting. By August 2012, three SMM Bloods had been convicted in the murder conspiracy, two more were awaiting trial in the case and others were in state prison serving time for drugs, robbery and assault. That’s when Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright said he received an alarming bit of intelligence. A new crop of Bloods were showing up inKingstonto fill the void left by the dismantling of SMM which, since the mid 1990’s had reigned as the city’s dominant street gang.
In particular, police noticed an increase in Bloods associated with the G-Shyne set which, like SMM, was one of the original East Coast Bloods factions established on Riker’s Island in the early ’90s. Cops also noted the arrival of Bloods, like alleged high-level memberGary“B War” Watkins, from Brooklyn inKingston, which has traditionally been an outpost for Bronx-based gangsters.
“When Grand Union closes down, Price Chopper moves in,” said Ulster County Undersheriff Frank Faluotico, whose Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team was involved in the investigation. “Somebody’s going to serve that market.”
Bringing in the troopers
Envisioning a large-scale investigation that would likely exceed the resources of local law enforcement, Carnright reached out to State Police Troop F commander Maj. Wayne Olsen. Olsen committed resources from the agency’s Community Narcotics Enforcement Team to the effort. The team that emerged featured the KPD’s Special Investigation Unit as the lead agency working hand in hand with URGENT, the U.S. Marshals Service and 16 other agencies, ranging from the NYPD to the Woodstock Police Department. The plan, Carnright said, was to go after Kingston’s gang infrastructure by targeting the street-level drug sales that are its lifeblood. Investigators would draw up a target list based on observations from detectives and beat cops, intelligence from street informants, complaints from citizens and other sources. Carnright said the focus of the investigation was on eight to 10 high ranking gang members; dozens more underlings and independent operators would end up in the net as cops worked their way up the ladder of small-time drug dealers to reach high-value targets.
“This was not a narcotics investigation, this was a gang investigation,” said Carnright. “We took the approach through narcotics because that’s the way to get [gang members]. The number of sales was small but the people we targeted are the people we got.”
Eight months of buys
Beginning on Aug. 1, teams from SIU, CNET and other agencies kicked off an eight-month drug-buying binge that would outpace the appetite of the most voracious crack addict. Between Aug. 1 and mid-March, teams of confidential informants paired up with undercover officers to purchase 365 grams of crack and powder cocaine in 207 separate undercover buys. The teams made their deals around the clock in bars, on street corners and apartments.
Detectives Eric Van Allen and Eric Paulding said the SIU team put in 70-hour weeks monitoring the undercover buys — the operation relied on undercover cops from CNET and other outside agencies not known to local drug dealers. Some of the undercovers were able to work their way up the ladder, developing relationships with, and eventually making buys from, cagey drug-trade veterans who typically left hand-to-hand transactions to henchmen.
“This started on August 1st and I can remember just one day when we weren’t able to purchase narcotics,” said Paulding. “It was raining,” added Van Allen.
Weeks of grand jury sessions
While the cops worked the streets, Carnright’s staff of assistant district attorneys toiled frantically to convert the undercover drug buys into sealed indictments. To help preserve the operations’ secrecy, Carnright convened a special grand jury to focus exclusively on the Clean Sweep cases. The panel met two days a week, sessions that were staggered with the meetings of the regular grand jury to avoid unusual activity around the courthouse that could give the game away. Armed with evidence from the drug buys, ADAs obtained a total of 86 sealed indictments, most of which included two or more counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, representing multiple sales to undercover cops. Meanwhile, Carnright was bracing for a flood of new cases into an already-overburdened county court system.
Slideshow image: Mayor Gallo and Chief Tinti are all smiles after the arrests. (Photo by Dan Barton)