Five Years In Prison for Crystal Sales

Sentence for Gary Kiss, one of eight Chelsea Connection defendants, recognizes recovery efforts

An Operation Chelsea Connection defendant, one of eight whose indictments for selling crystal meth were announced by federal prosecutors last year, was sentenced to five years in federal prison, five years of supervised release when he completes his prison sentence and a $70,000 fine on June 2.

Gary Kiss, 43, was charged with “distributing and conspiring to distribute methamphetamine,” according to a June 3 press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In 2003, Kiss sold 13 grams of crystal worth $1,400 to an informant who himself pleaded guilty to “various narcotics offenses,” is awaiting sentencing and cooperated “to receive consideration on his/her criminal case,” according to the criminal complaint in the Kiss case. The transaction took place in the informant’s Manhattan apartment and was videotaped.

Kiss also gave the informant $4,200 to purchase two ounces of crystal from a dealer in Georgia and paid $3,500 to purchase another two ounces of meth, according to the press statement.

Kiss, who was incarcerated eight months ago after pleading guilty, was in federal court wearing a prison-issue shirt and pants. While waiting for Judge John G. Koeltl to arrive for the sentencing hearing, he blew kisses and waved to the roughly 40 friends and supporters who had turned out.

The hearing lasted more than an hour as the judge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D. Feldman and Gerald M. Labush, Kiss’ attorney, debated the length of the sentence.

“The probation department has suggested a downward departure in the sentencing, but the government has suggested a much longer period of incarceration,” Koeltl said. “Downward departure” is a term referring to a proposed sentence reduction from the federal guidelines.

The prosecution sought a sentence of 87 to 108 months. The defense attorney and Kiss said he had a long history of addiction, but had shown improvement since his arrest early last year.

“Mr. Kiss’ addiction is decades long,” Labush said. “His struggle with it, unsuccessful to the time of his arrest is acknowledged. His rehabilitation, or however your honor may choose to characterize it, has been earnest… The turnout of support for him in this room is extraordinary.”

Speaking in his own defense, Kiss said he had been active in a 12-step group for meth addicts and volunteered his time at the Realization Center, a Manhattan drug and alcohol recovery group.

“There is no doubt that I have broken the law,” he said. “I ask that I be allowed to continue my program of rehabilitation. I am trying very hard for the first time in my life and am successful and I hope also to be a power of example to help others avoid what is an insidious drug.”

Feldman pressed for more time than was eventually imposed.

“This isn’t a case about addiction, as sad and tragic as what Mr. Kiss has gone through has been,” he said. “This is about Mr. Kiss distributing drugs to other people over and over again, selling thousands and thousands of hits of ecstasy in the 1990s, years before he became a daily crystal user in 1999… This is about drug distribution and greed, not addiction.”

Kiss’ sentence was closer to what the defense wanted than what the prosecution sought and he chastised Feldman for not discussing the proposals from other government agencies in the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation.

“Now I am faced with a government letter that simply ignores what the probation officer said,” he said. “That’s not helpful. Also, I didn’t see any reference to the pre-trial services officer’s letter. Wouldn’t it have been helpful to at least address what the issues are on the other side? How do I consider whether this is an exceptional, an extraordinary case?”

Both the probation department and the pre-trial services officer noted Kiss’ recovery efforts, said they made his case exceptional and extraordinary and recommended a reduction in his sentence.

Kiss could serve as little as two and a half years in prison with time off for good behavior and successful completion of a drug treatment program. While his sentence is tough, other meth dealers who sold in the gay community have not done as well.

James Urinyi, 34, also an “Operation Chelsea Connection” defendant, pleaded guilty and was given 121 months, or just over ten years, in November 2004. He is currently serving his sentence in a federal facility in upstate New York.

Urinyi sold 14 grams of crystal to a confidential informant, the same one Kiss sold 13 grams to, and engaged in transactions to finance the purchase of meth.

“What happened in the James Urinyi case is that he agreed to become an informant,” Labush said. “The way it works is that you have to sign a plea agreement to the highest possible charge that the government has against you.”

Placed back on the streets to engage in the meth scene to inform, Urinyi started using again, which was a violation of his plea agreement and he was sentenced on based on the toughest charge, according to Labush. Greg Cooper, Urinyi’s attorney, did not respond to a call seeking comment.

While the indictments against the six other “Operation Chelsea Connection” defendants were announced at the same time as the cases against Kiss and Urinyi last year, they are unrelated to the Kiss and Urinyi cases.

The other six defendants were part of a network that was distributing meth and gamma butyrolactone, or GBL.

The six were “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,” David N. Kelley, the U.S. attorney said in 2004. Those six defendants have pleaded guilty, but have not yet been sentenced.

A group of five dealers, who were not part of the “Operation Chelsea Connection” arrests announced last year, received sentences of six or seven years in prison. Federal prosecutors last fall had considered featuring head shots of these five defendants in anti-meth posters that would be displayed prominently in Chelsea, but backed off in the face of a community outcry.

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