The following is a republished press release from the New York Attorney General’s Office and NOT written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit community announcements directly to The Voice, email email@example.com.
ALBANY – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrests and 217-count indictment of 31 members charged with distributing massive quantities of heroin, from New York City and throughout the Finger Lakes Region, including in New York, Bronx, Queens, Schuyler, Tioga, and Tompkins Counties – the second major drug bust in Attorney General Schneiderman’s S.U.R.G.E. Initiative, which targets violent heroin and opioid traffickers in suburban and upstate New York.
As part of “Operation Un-Wise,” state and local law enforcement agents, led by the New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), and the New York State Police, concluded a five-month investigation into a drug network that was allegedly conducting illicit activities on the streets of the Finger Lakes Region.
“Today’s arrests should send the message to those terrorizing and dealing death in our communities: we will find you and prosecute you,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office has taken on the devastating heroin and opioid abuse epidemic through a multi-faceted approach, including our S.U.R.G.E Initiative – using every tool at our disposal to crack down on the complex, violent heroin and opioid distribution networks. This epidemic has shattered families and taken far too many lives already, and I am committed to doing everything in my power to hold those responsible accountable.”
A central figure in the alleged heroin distribution network was Arthur “Wise” Erskine. According to the criminal charges, Erskine was an Ithaca-based heroin dealer who purchased heroin from a source in New York City for $56 per gram. Erskine also touted himself as a music promoter for his production company Bandyard Entertainment, and even personally appeared in some of the music videos. Erskine maintained one residence in the Bronx and two houses in the Cayuga Heights neighborhood of Ithaca, which were allegedly utilized for trafficking heroin.
Also alleged to be central to the heroin distribution network was the mother of Erskine’s children, Aylah “Boogz” Stewart-Boda. Prosecutors allege that Stewart involved her entire family in her heroin trafficking, having her mother, Lynn Boda distribute heroin in Ithaca; her older sister, Myia Boda, sell heroin; and her younger sister, Destiny Boda, mule drugs to other re-sellers.
In early March, Erskine allegedly purchased hundreds of grams of heroin from defendant Jose Polanco, an alleged trafficker, which were then smuggled to Tompkins County. That heroin was laced with Fentanyl and, between March 2, 2017 and March 7, 2017, Tompkins County and Tioga County experienced eight overdose calls for service, including one for the death of Stephanie Dvorak. Ms. Dvorak was allegedly a heroin customer of defendant Zachary Kelly and arranged to meet Kelly during that time period.
On March 12, 2017, members of nine different law enforcement agencies executed search warrants on eight different residences throughout New York State: two locations in Manhattan, one in Queens, four in Tompkins County, and one in Tioga County. Among the items seized during the execution of those search warrants were more than one kilogram of heroin, dozens of grams of cocaine, 14 handguns, one MAC-11 machine pistol, and narcotics-related paraphernalia.
The indictments, which were unsealed today in Tioga County Court, contain 217 counts, charging 31 people with various Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (class A, B, C, D felonies) and Conspiracy in the second degree (class B felony) in relation to their involvement in the narcotics trafficking network. Those charged today include:
- Joseph Besemer, 34 years old, of Newfield, NY
- Shaylee Bisgrove, 24 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Destiny Boda, 25 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Lynn Boda, 50 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Myia Boda, 31 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Corey Bond, 31 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Stormie Coyne, 39 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Katie Crapo, 28 years old, of Odessa, NY
- Michael Dawson, 26 years old, of Willseyville, NY
- Arthur Erskine, 40 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Erica Farrell, 32 years old, of Candor, NY
- Dioremi Feliz, 36 years old, of New York, New York
- Brittany Ford, 28 years old, of Bronx, NY
- Shanakia Gray, 34 years old, of Newfield, NY
- Zachary Kelly, 32 years old, of Bronx, NY
- Yvette King, 40 years old, of Lansing, NY
- Zavierus King, 22 years old, of Lansing, NY
- Johnny Lee, 37 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Angelo LeGrande, 42 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Jerica Luoma, 28 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Eric MacDonald, 32 years old, of Candor, NY
- Dustin Myers, 29 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Jose Polanco, 38 years old, of New York, NY
- Devon Rose, 19 years old, of Willseyville, NY
- Branden Schmeltz, 22 years old, of Spencer, NY
- Nicole Spence, 43 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Aylah Stewart-Boda, 25 years old, of Ithaca, NY
- Brandon Stone, 26 years old, of Candor, NY
- Savanna Washington, 26 years old, of Candor, NY
- Justin Westbrook, 25 years old, of Spencer, NY
- Joseph White, 26 years old, of Cortland, NY
This massive takedown and indictment is the culmination of a major investigation, part of Attorney General Schneiderman’s ongoing efforts to combat narcotics trafficking and other crimes through his Suburban And Upstate Response To The Growing Epidemic – known as the S.U.R.G.E Initiative. S.U.R.G.E. is the Attorney General’s new law enforcement effort that brings together the AG’s Organized Crime Task Force and local and state law enforcement to disrupt New York’s widening heroin and opioid distribution networks. Last month, Attorney General Schneiderman announced Operation Bricktown, the first major drug bust as part of the initiative.
“This investigation and the charges brought today against these 31 individuals are evidence of the commitment we share with our law enforcement partners in keeping dangerous drugs off of our streets,” Superintendent George P. Beach II said. “Each day our State Police members see the harmful effects of heroin on individuals, families and our neighborhoods. A drug like heroin destroys communities and puts lives at risk. I applaud our members and our partners for their strong police work. We will continue to work together to make our communities safer and keep harmful narcotics off our streets.”
“Opioid use is a major problem in Ithaca and Tompkins County, with overdoses an almost daily occurrence, and unnecessary deaths all too frequent. I am pleased that we were able to work with Attorney General Schneiderman’s Organized Crime Task Force to break up this heroin ring,” said Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick. “I am hopeful that this will slow the flow of drugs and save lives in the immediate term. We are committed to a four-pillar strategy that includes, as we saw today, law enforcement. In the coming months and years we must continue our focus on all four pillars, especially prevention, treatment, and harm reduction.”
The charges contained in the indictment are the result of a five-month joint investigation by the OCTF, the New York State Police and the City of Ithaca Police Department, with the assistance of the Tioga County Sheriff’s Office, the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, the NY National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, the United States Marshals Service, Village of Cayuga Heights Police, Dryden Police Department, the Groton Police Department, the Tioga County District Attorney’s Office, the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office, the Spencer Police Department, the Waverly Police Department, the Broome County Sheriff’s Office, and the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office General Schneiderman’s Organized Crime Task Force has partnered with state and local law enforcement to bring over 800 accused drug and gun dealers to justice, since 2010. In addition to prosecuting major drug trafficking rings, the Attorney General has taken numerous steps to combat the opioid crisis in New York including but not limited to:
- Creating the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (“I-STOP), an online Prescription Monitoring Program (“PMP”) that enables doctors and pharmacists to report and track controlled narcotics in real time.
- Aggressively enforcing laws that require parity in health plan coverage of mental health and addiction treatment and reaching agreements with five companies: Cigna, MVP Health Care, EmblemHealth, Excellus, and ValueOptions.
- Obtaining settlements with Cigna, Anthem, and BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS), who all agreed to remove prior authorization requirements for medication-assisted treatment (“MAT”) nationwide.
- Reaching agreements with Purdue Pharma and Endo
Pharmaceuticals Inc. to ensure that these opioid manufacturers engage in responsible and legal marketing.
The investigation was directed by New York State Police Investigator John Ward and Ithaca Police Investigator Kevin McKenna, under the supervision of Senior Investigator Jeffrey Gotschall and assistance of OCTF Senior William Charles, and Deputy Chief Investigator Gene Black, under the supervision of Chief Dominick Zarrella. The Ithaca Police Department’s involvement was directed by Lt. Michael Neslon, under the supervision of Acting Chief of Police Peter Tyler.
The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorneys General Michael Sharpe and Andrew McElwee, under the supervision of OCTF Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff.
The charges against the defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.