Five people, including a high-level drug trafficker based in Harlem, have been arrested in a scheme to mail bulk shipments of cocaine hidden in gift boxes and packed along kids' toys via USPS from Puerto Rico to New York City, authorities said Wednesday.
Officials intercepted five packages containing a kilogram (2 pounds) of cocaine each over the course of the long-term wiretap investigation, authorities said. Packages were address to fake names and people outside the drug ring; the drugs found in them had a combined street value of up to $225,000.
The packages were all disguised as children's birthday gifts, wrapped in "Happy Birthday" wrapping paper. The cocaine was hidden in wireless Internet router boxes within the packages, most of which also contained a stuffed Olaf doll.
Albert Fortosa, who allegedly arranged the bulk shipments, was arrested as he allegedly accepted one of the package deliveries last month.
The other defendants, Daniel Reyes, an alleged drug delivery service operator based in Brooklyn, Derrick Santana, who allegedly sold drugs in nightclubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Joseph Owens, who worked closely with Fortosa, and Mallory Claudio, who was allegedly involved in the conspiracy, were arrested Aug. 4.
Detectives knew Santana was the alleged club dealer at the outset of the investigation, and court-authorized wiretaps enabled police to identify Reyes as a supply source for Santana, according to prosecutors.
According to prosecutors, the suspects sold $41,000 drugs to undercover officers with the NYPD's Vice Squad 20 times since the investigation launched in September. In the largest sale of the case, Reyes, who allegedly ran a drug delivery service, sold 100 grams of cocaine 100 individual packets of heroin and 50 Xanax pills to an undercover officer for $6,900 officials said.
The probe into the club drugs led investigators to Fortosa, who was allegedly at the top of the supply chain for cocaine and who is also accused of selling heroin, MDMA and marijuana.
The 71-count indictment charges some or all of the suspects with conspiracy, criminal sale and possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest, among other crimes.
Fortosa pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Manhattan last week. Bail was set at $250,000. Reyes, Santana and Owens also pleaded not guilty and were remanded pending bail arguments. Reyes is due in court Wednesday. The status of Claudio's legal proceedings wasn't clear; she was only charged with conspiracy.
"This investigation began in nightclubs across New York City and ultimately led to the arrest of a major narcotics supplier, who obtained multiple shipments of cocaine from Puerto Rico via the U.S. mail," Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said in a statement. "Kilos of cocaine were disguised as children’s birthday gifts, and shipped alongside innocent looking Olaf dolls and other toys, in a failed attempt to conceal the sinister contents."
Information on attorneys for the suspects wasn't immediately available.