NEW YORK — Nineteen suspects were arraigned before a U.S. magistrate Saturday on charges stemming from a massive citywide drug sweep that netted heroin worth $70 million, and a 20th suspect was arrested when she arrived to view the proceedings.
Police searched for 10 other suspects in the third-largest seizure of heroin in New York City history. An arsenal of weapons also was confiscated in Friday's sweep of 14 locations around the city.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials said Saturday that they were not disappointed that their parallel drug enforcement action--an unprecedented 22-hour partial blockade of New York Harbor--ended Friday without finding any illegal drugs.
Youth, 16, Arraigned
Spectators and reporters were cleared from the federal courtroom in Manhattan when the first suspect, an unidentified 16-year-old youth, was brought in for arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Ruth Washington.
Seven female suspects were chained together at the wrists and led into a hallway for about 30 minutes as they awaited arraignment.
A woman identified as Lydia Rivera, who came to the courtroom to watch the arraignment, was arrested by federal agents when she waved and smiled to the group of women in the hallway.
Authorities said Rivera was one of the employees in a Bronx mill where the drug ring cut heroin and packaged it for distribution.
Robert Stutman, special agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's New York field office, said the ring distributed $450,000 worth of heroin each week.
Friday's raids capped a nine-month investigation that included undercover purchases and wiretaps.
The suspected ringleader, Carlos Medina, and the others--including Medina's wife, Irma, and his mother, Paquita Rivera--are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin.
The bulk of the heroin, packaged in sealed plastic containers, was seized from Rivera's home.
The heroin, which was smuggled into the country from Belgium and Paris, was allegedly processed at the mill for distribution in New York, Connecticut and Puerto Rico.
'Heroin Is Still Here'
Stutman, the DEA agent in charge of the investigation, told reporters: "I think today's massive seizure demonstrates that despite the great influx of 'crack' (a potent form of cocaine) into the city, the traditional heroin is still here and still a tremendous problem."
A DEA spokesman said that while the ring is not the largest ever broken up, the arrests were important because they dismantled a whole operation.
"What we try to do is get an organization from the heads to the street people. And that's what this is," the spokesman said.
Agents also seized drug paraphernalia and weapons, including shotguns, several pistols, an Uzi submachine gun and boxes of bullets, some of them Teflon-coated and capable of piercing a bulletproof vest.
Also confiscated were fur coats, gold and diamond jewelry, $75,000 in cash and five vehicles, authorities said.