FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2000
Office of NYC Special
NYC Police Department
NYC Department of Housing
Preservation & Development
New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan, New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Jerilyn Perine announced today the arrest and indictment of 12 members of a drug conspiracy which besieged two upper Manhattan apartment buildings for the past ten years. In addition, 13 other defendants were arrested in raids yesterday during the takedown of the case. Those named in the indictment are all members of the "Black-Top" gang, a multi-million dollar crack operation headquartered at 12-14 and 16-18 Old Broadway in Manhattan. All 25 defendants will be arraigned today. Two of the defendants, including Vladimir Silfa, one of the main targets of the investigation, were arrested in state prisons. All indicted defendants appeared before Justice Brenda Soloff this morning.
In yesterday's raids, police executed 12 search warrants and recovered 4,100 black top vials of crack and 4 guns. In addition, a high-tech security system, a money counting machine, a bulletproof vest and counter surveillance devices were discovered in one of the apartments.
In the course of their conspiracy, the gang took over and used apartments occupied by legitimate tenants as well as vacant apartments to sell and hide their drugs. Co-conspirators Vladimir Silfa and Jose Celpa are charged in the indictment with directing the lucrative crack enterprise that is estimated to have sold 5,000 -8,000 vials a week at $5 a vial, netting up to $160,000 per month. Silfa is currently serving a 2-to-6 year sentence on drug changes in Lakeview Correctional Facility in Buffalo, NY. The indictment marks the end of a decade- long struggle to rescue the 44 apartments and four storefronts first from a negligent landlord and then from this group of crack dealers.
In 1995, HPD took over the buildings for non-payment of taxes from the Huey Corporation, a company in which Andonis Morfesis was a principal. Morfesis was nicknamed "Dracula Landlord" in the mid-1990s for the way he allowed his buildings across the city to fall into disrepair.
Crack dealing was thriving in the two locations by then; mostly as a result of the activities of those named in the indictment. According to police records there have been over 200 narcotics-related arrests in the buildings since 1999. In 1999 HPD attempted to evict Celpa, however a Housing Court judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to connect him to drug activity.
The defendants used intricate ploys to elude police and HPD efforts to root them out. They bounced the drug operation from one building to another . Hallway windows were blackened out to prevent police from observing drug sales, which normally took place in stairway landings. Exits to the roof and the rear doors were bolted and padlocked to prevent police from entering the buildings.
The gang's methods grew increasingly sophisticated. Those responsible for securing the outside of the buildings, communicated with dealers inside via transmitters, which resembled car "clickers." The transmitters were used to alert dealers of nearby police patrols. All buyers were screened with electronic detectors able to sense recording devices. Undercover officers attempting to purchase drugs were regularly threatened-once at gunpoint-and were ordered to leave if no one could vouch for them. Those transmitters and detectors were recovered late yesterday.
When alerted that police were in the buildings, inside dealers would force their customers to go downstairs to the lobby to intercept officers slowing things down while the operation was moved and gang members retreated into apartments they controlled.
In the process, the defendants created intolerable conditions for the buildings' approximately 50 lawful residents-many of whom are families with small children and teenagers. Gang members intimidated residents to force them to leave so that they could take over the apartments. Once the gang moved into an apartment reinforced steel-plated doors and new locks were installed to keep intruders out.
On one occasion, a female tenant returned from a trip to find that the defendants had broken into her apartment and had hidden walkie-talkies inside her ten-month-old baby's diaper bag. Several gang members later snatched the instruments from her when she left the building. When she came back days later , Victor Teruel, one of the conspirators in today's indictment, had moved into her apartment, changed the locks, and was using the location to sell crack. Teruel was convicted by the New York County's District Attorney's Office of Attempted Burglary and is currently serving a one-to-three year sentence in Moriah State Prison. He was returned to face the new charges.
Conducted by NYPD's Central Harlem Initiative, the 26th Precinct, the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and the HPD's Narcotics Control Unit, the investigation involved extensive surveillance that established that the drug group received weekly shipments of crack already packaged in black top vials. During one of those deliveries, defendant Carlos Hernandez used a motorcycle registered to Celpa to deliver a shipment to 16-18 Old Broadway. He got into an accident a block away from his destination. According to a police report, Hernandez was wearing a bulletproof vest and was carrying 4,500 crack vials in a backpack when he was found unconscious on the street.
During the takedown, search warrants were executed at apartments 6,7, 8, 10, 15 and 20 of 16-18 Old Broadway and one at apartment 19 of 12-14 Old Broadway. Seven other search warrants were executed at other gang-Iinked locations in the Bronx and Manhattan. In the past six months, close to 10,000 crack-filled black top vials and 8 guns have been recovered.
Once the enforcement operation is completed, the buildings are slated for a program that will transfer ownership from the city to Ecumenical Community Development Organization, a non-profit organization.
Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said: "The success we have experienced in this type of operation is immeasurable. By joining resources, not only can we clean up ongoing narcotics activity but we can help ensure that narcotics dealers don't immediately reclaim their territory once our operation is over."
Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said: "This case involved a multi-million dollar crack gang that essentially took over two residential apartment buildings and turned the homes of honest families into their own private drug market. These indictments prove, however, that no matter how sophisticated these drug enterprises become or how entrenched these dealers think they are, the NYPD and our partners in law enforcement will not relent until they are permanently shut down and the criminals that run them prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
HPD Commissioner Jerilyn Perine said: "HPD's Narcotic Control Unit worked in full partnership with the Police Department and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. NCU efforts helped the Police Department to mount its undercover operation and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor to develop a conspiracy case to bring down the entire drug operation."