February 2, 2005
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
The tentacles of a huge crack
cocaine ring halted recently in Hartford's North End reached all
the way to Mexico, where the leaders of the ring had arranged to
deliver 50 to 100 kilograms of cocaine per month to local suppliers,
according to government documents unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District
While federal and city officials were announcing the arrests of
48 of 52 suspects Tuesday afternoon, the effect of the crackdown
was not evident on many Hartford street corners. Dozens of men suspected
of dealing illegal drugs appeared to be doing business as usual.
Hattie Harris and Elaine Hightower, both residents of Vine Street
in Hartford's North End, only had to go to their windows Tuesday
evening to see teenagers, who they suspected of drug dealing, loitering
outside their buildings.
The trouble is as the night grows colder, the teenagers come inside
to sell illegal drugs, the women said.
"I don't see a difference" or a slowdown in drug dealings,
said Harris, since the bulk of the arrests were made in November
and December. "I think it's a great thing what they did. But
you've got many more [alleged dealers] over on Albany Avenue and
Sigourney Street. At least they are making a new beginning. What
about phase two and phase three? I'll be watching to see what they
are doing," Harris said.
The fact that the byproduct of drug dealing is often violence became
clear Tuesday morning when Hightower walked into her front room and
spotted a bullethole in her window. "I looked up there and I
said, `My God. ... The bullet came right through my window.' I stood
there for about a half an hour. I couldn't believe it. It scared
me, but what am I going to do?"
U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said earlier Tuesday federal officials
successfully teamed up with Hartford police, and the Northern Connecticut
Violent Crime Task Force to put a dent in the city's crack cocaine
drug trade. He acknowledged the problem hasn't been solved.
"We are not naïve enough to think that we've stopped the
drugs. ... As long as there is a demand, there will be people who
will supply that demand," O'Connor said.
Nevertheless, O'Connor said, the crackdown, dubbed "Operation
Big Boy," was a huge success.
"We haven't eradicated the drug problem in Connecticut," he
said. "But we've dismantled this particular operation. It is
a significant accomplishment."
The investigation, which started about 10 months ago, was sparked
by an appeal from Hartford police officers Nestor Caraballo and Jose
Santiago and others from the department's community response division.
They said in part that if something wasn't done about the drug-related
violence on Middlefield and East Raymond streets, people could die.
Hartford's request for help resulted in a federal wiretap of nine
telephones of suspected drug dealers, who were arrested from November
to January. The telephone conversations ultimately helped the team
uncover a complicated criminal enterprise operating out of private
homes and The Frontline Café and Rodfield Fashions on Albany
FBI Special Agents Robert E. Bornstein and William B. Aldenberg
took the lead as the wiretaps progressed from lower level street
dealers to what O'Connor called the "big fish." Primary
members of the network who were charged are Noel Keating, 45, a former
state Department of Correction officer from Bloomfield; his wife,
Lois Keating, 45, who co-owned the Frontline Café on Albany
Avenue; and Richard Carter, 39, and Negus Forrester, 27, both of
Hartford. Four others, Clayton Robinson, 23, Ricardo Fuller, 23,
Michael Jaramillo, 29, and Kenneth "Chucky" Powell, 31,
are still at large and wanted on federal narcotics charges, O'Connor
Federal authorities say Noel Keating and Carter were at the top
of the crack cocaine ladder, because they provided the space where
powder cocaine was transformed into crack, O'Connor said. But the
source of the enterprise was far away from Connecticut.
O'Connor and federal court documents unsealed Tuesday said that
Gilberto Soto, 34, North Hollywood, Calif., and his partner, only
referred to as "Temo," supplied the cocaine from Mexico.
At the time of his arrest on Jan. 26, Soto was transporting 16 kilograms
of powder cocaine hidden in a mini-van en route to Hartford, government
records show. He was arrested in Wallingford after he was lured into
the state by undercover agents tipped off about his connection to
the network, federal court papers show.
According to federal court papers, Soto, known as "Gil," and
Temo became the new targets of the complicated drug sting in November.
At the time, Soto and a supplier in Hartford, who was not identified,
had just started to discuss the purchase of 10 kilograms of cocaine.
Law enforcement agents took advantage of that relationship and used
telephone wiretaps to arrange the possible shipment of 50 to 100
kilograms of cocaine to Hartford each month, records show.
By Dec. 1, a government informant and an undercover officer met
with Soto in New York, who confirmed that "everything was ready
in Mexico in order to begin delivering large quantities of cocaine" to
the informant in Hartford. Twenty-two days later, under FBI surveillance,
the undercover officer purchased one kilogram of cocaine for $21,000,
After the purchase, authorities set up an additional buy, and Soto
was caught in Wallingford allegedly bringing the cocaine to Hartford,
At a press conference on Tuesday, FBI Assistant Special Agent in
Charge Paul S. White said the FBI is committed to "attacking
street crime and drugs-related violence."
Meanwhile, Hightower said she will keep monitoring the halls of
her apartment building.
"Could y'all please leave?" she said she'll keep saying. "I
just walk the buildings, I just ask them to leave."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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