(WNY News Now) – New York Attorney General Letitia James and Syracuse Police Chief Joseph Cecile announced the indictment of 31 defendants charged with 192 crimes related to drug trafficking and weapons offenses in connection with two major drug trafficking networks that were distributing fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine in several Upstate New York counties.
Syracuse – In a joint effort by law enforcement agencies, a major crackdown has resulted in the indictment of 31 individuals involved in two drug trafficking networks operating across Upstate New York. New York Attorney General Letitia James and Syracuse Police Chief Joseph Cecile made the announcement, detailing the charges against the defendants, which include 192 crimes related to drug trafficking and weapons offenses.
The year-long investigation, dubbed “Operation Blockbuster,” led to the seizure of more than 150,000 envelopes containing over $300,000 worth of fentanyl or a mixture of fentanyl and heroin. Additionally, law enforcement recovered nearly a pound of methamphetamine, one-quarter kilogram of cocaine, more than $16,500 connected to narcotics distribution activity, three illegal firearms, and two vehicles used for transporting and distributing narcotics.
New York Attorney General Letitia James expressed the significance of this takedown, stating, “Opioids like fentanyl have torn apart communities across our state, and organized drug trafficking rings have fueled their spread,” said Attorney General James. “This takedown is part of my office’s ongoing efforts to roll back the deadly and destructive effects of the opioid crisis. We will continue to pursue and prosecute all those who peddle illicit drugs and I thank our partners in law enforcement for their critical support and collaboration in this investigation.”
The first indictment focused on the “Castro Group,” led by Bayron Castro, also known as “Hov,” charging 23 individuals with 150 counts related to selling controlled substances across several counties. The investigation revealed that the Castro Group procured significant quantities of fentanyl from suppliers in Bronx County for distribution throughout Central New York and the North Country. Bayron Castro himself faces charges of Operating as a Major Trafficker, which carries a mandatory life sentence in state prison.
The investigation led to the discovery of over 100,000 glassine envelopes containing fentanyl and heroin stored and distributed from inside suitcases in a Syracuse apartment. The Castro Group supplied narcotics to alleged members of the Bricktown gang, operating within a multi-block area of the south side of Syracuse, and their associates distributed various narcotics throughout Central New York and the North Country.
The second indictment outlined the activities of the “Pettiford Group,” led by Edward Pettiford, also known as “Buster,” and charged eight individuals with 42 counts related to the sale of narcotics and methamphetamine in Onondaga and Oswego counties. The investigation revealed that alleged Bricktown member Malik Evans distributed narcotics in Onondaga and Oswego Counties and was supplied by individuals including Henry Townsend and Brycedon James, both of whom were supplied by Pettiford.
During the investigation, Townsend was involved in a shooting incident on West Newell Street, leading to charges of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, Assault in the Second Degree, and related offenses. Emanuel Jenkins, present at Townsend’s residence during the shooting, was charged with Tampering with Physical Evidence for retrieving and hiding shell casings discharged in the shooting.
“Operation Blockbuster” was the result of a joint investigation between the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the Syracuse Police Department’s Special Investigations Division. The operation brought together more than a dozen state, local, and federal enforcement agencies, including the Syracuse Police Department, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, Oswego County Sheriff’s Office, and various other agencies, for a multi-agency investigation. The investigation included covert physical surveillance, extensive electronic surveillance, and multiple search warrants aimed at dismantling heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine dealers operating in Central New York and the North Country.
This takedown marks another success for the Attorney General’s Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic (S.U.R.G.E.) Initiative, an effort that targets heroin, fentanyl, opioid, and narcotics trafficking networks in New York. Since its launch in 2017, SURGE has resulted in the arrest of 909 alleged traffickers.
The 31 individuals face various charges, including Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (class A, B, and C felonies), Conspiracy to commit those crimes, and charges related to the shooting on West Newell Street. It’s important to note that these charges are accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The investigation was led by Syracuse Police Detective Travis Holmes and OAG OCTF Supervising Detective Tim MacConaghy, with assistance from the U.S. Army National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by OAG OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Geoffrey Ciereck, under the supervision of Upstate OCTF Deputy Chief Maria Moran.