Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota on Tuesday announced 23 arrests as part of a 16-month sting that dismantled one of Suffolk’s largest heroin rings, including a Smithown dealer based less than a mile from Hauppauge’s border.
Smithtown resident Richard Balanda, 29, of Brooksite Drive was among those arrested on charges of second-degree conspiracy for allegedly selling heroin to local residents as part of the drug ring, which spanned from Queens to Suffolk County.
Spota said the investigation was a joint effort between Suffolk County Police’s narcotic division and his office led to dismantling the ring,.
“For the 16-month investigation utilizing electronic surveillance, we believe that they were responsible for more than 1 million bags of heroin, worth approximately $10 to $11 million,” Spota said. Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Creighton said investigators believe he ring had been in operation since 2006.
The district attorney said police unveiled a “table top” heroin distribution organization lead by Joel Guzman, of Queens, and Carlos Melendez, of the Bronx, who operated a stash hose out of Corona, Queens for sale in Suffolk County. Bronx resident Frank Conte, 29, out on $1 million bond for a murder, was allegedly supplying raw uncut heroin, according to investigators. From the stash house, it was distributed to local dealers, including Balanda, for distribution.
“They were selling to high school kids, “ Spota said.
It was estimated about 15,000 bags of heroin per week were sold in Suffolk County during the investigation, marketed under name such as “Sweet Death,” “Starbucks,” and “Kneebender.”
Spota said wiretapped conversations between Balandra and Ricardo Rifino, of Sayville and then Bethpage, on Nov. 16, 2010 included a conversation in which one mentioned attending a funeral mass for teen who died of heroin overdose. In the conversation, Balandra allegedly asked who he was purchasing from, as it was not their organization, according to police.
A search warrant carried out on Rifino’s house during the investigation found 2,500 bags of heroin and $80,000 in cash stored in a shoe box.
“Heroin continues to eat away at the fabric of our communities, eating away at our young people and destroying families as well,” Spota said.
Balanda is awaiting arraignment in Central Islip courts.