Eight arrests sign of new Drug Enforcement Administration focus on gay community

Anthony P. Placido is the Special Agent in charge of the DEA’s NYC field office.

Demonstrating federal law enforcement’s increasing attention to crystal meth in New York City, the Justice Department announced the arrests and indictments of eight men who are charged with possessing and selling crystal meth.

“We’re not here to just announce an arrest or filing of charges as we typically do so much as we are here to discuss a new challenge for law enforcement as well as the community at large, particularly the gay community,” said David N. Kelley, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on February 19. “That challenge is crystal methamphetamine.”

Six men were indicted on seven counts in an alleged conspiracy to distribute the drug. They were Jeffrey D. Watson, 40; John R. Warner, 39; Angel Garcia, 37; Joseph Burns, 29; Gregory C. Smith, 42 and Avon Chandler, 32. Burns was also charged with selling gamma butyrolactone, or GBL, which was packaged in mouthwash bottles.

The investigation––dubbed Operation Chelsea Connection––started last year.

Watson, Warner, and Burns allegedly brought the drugs into New York City. Those three are also charged with trying to avoid financial reporting requirements by making large numbers of cash deposits that were under $10,000 at four different banks. Transactions of $10,000 or more must be reported. The feds seized “nearly a half million dollars in alleged drug proceeds” as well as a large amount of crystal.

“As part of our Chelsea Connection investigation we are announcing today the indictments of six individuals, three wholesalers, and three retailers, who are alleged to have distributed and conspired to distribute more than 13 pounds of crystal meth since the middle of last year,” Kelley said.

Kelley also announced the arrests of Gary Kiss, 42, on two counts of distributing crystal and James Urinyi, 33, on one count of distributing crystal.

Both men were investigated last year with the assistance of a confidential informant––identified as “CI-1”––who has pleaded guilty to “various narcotics offenses,” is awaiting sentencing, and cooperated “to receive consideration on his/her criminal case,” according to the Kiss and Urinyi criminal complaints.

It is not clear if the “CI-1” in both cases is the same person, but the informant’s home is listed as a “Mid-Town Apartment Building” in both.

The Urinyi and Kiss arrests are unrelated to the indictments against the other six men. Urinyi’s lawyer declined comment and Kiss, reached at work, also declined to discuss his case.

All eight cases were investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which has been ramping up its efforts against crystal in New York.

“These cases that I’ve announced today are just the latest in our efforts to curb crystal meth,” Kelley said. “In 2002, there were only 11 arrests made here for crystal methamphetamine, but in the last six months alone we have made, including those announced today, 30 arrests involving over 25 pounds of the drug with a street value in excess of over $2.5 million dollars.”

If convicted, the eight men face serious prison time.

“Now the penalties are stiff,” Kelley said. “Each of those announced today face mandatory sentences ranging from five years up to a maximum of 40 years or a minimum of ten years in prison up to life.”

Saying the men were involved in “a significant criminal enterprise,” Anthony P. Placido, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York Field Division, said his agency would continue to move against meth.

“There are a number of ongoing investigations,” Placido said. “This is the beginning rather than the end of our efforts in this area.”

In a February 13 interview, Placido said the crystal problem in New York, while serious, was relatively small in comparison to the trafficking in heroin or cocaine. He reiterated that view on February 19. “Fortunately the abuse of methamphetamine, which has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the country, has not reached those levels here in New York,” he said. “We hope there is still time to really stem the tide.”

“We are here to discuss a new challenge for law enforcement as well as the community, particularly the gay community,”

said U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley.

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