Ulster County Drug Ring Dismantled: Nine Indicted

Photo Courtesy of Philip Pantuso
The Ulster County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference regarding the drug-bust, with many impacted in the region.

A large drug trafficking organization spanning from New York City through the Hudson Valley was reportedly dismantled in Ulster County, as announced on Oct. 11. Nine people are facing charges for connections to the distribution of large quantities of cocaine and fentanyl, with an established drug connection to motorcycle gangs. The charges in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The alleged impacted areas of the drug ring include Kingston, Ellenville and other parts of Ulster County. Of the nine individuals charged, seven originate from Ellenville and another from Huguenot. According to Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations in New York, the traffickers are alleged to belong to motorcycle gangs. Officials declined to identify which gangs specifically, as the investigation remains active. 

Arvelo further stated, “These nine individuals are accused of drug-related crimes, all of which were allegedly part of their unlawful pursuit of money and power. But that ends today. HSI New York is proud to have partnered with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and New York State Police. Our shared commitment toward accomplishing our ultimate goal–justice–knows no bounds.”

Between March 2021 and January 2023, the organization reportedly istributed mass quantities of fentanyl and cocaine to areas spanning across Ulster County. When executing search warrants of residences in Ellenville, White Plains, the Bronx and Manhattan, law enforcement discovered and seized approximately four kilograms of fentanyl, 500 grams of cocaine, $600,000 in drug proceeds, and five firearms.

The announcement was made by United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman, Ivan J. Arvelo-Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and New York and Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, whose office leads the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT). URGENT is an inter-agency task force targeting drug dealers and gang members in Ulster County and played a critical role in dismantling this drug ring. 

Carla B. Freedman, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, explained four kilograms of fentanyl equates to “enough for 200,000 deadly doses.” Freedman also commented that, “With today’s arrests, we have dismantled an organization that brought large quantities of cocaine and fentanyl into the Hudson Valley. This case is the result of the close collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that produces successful and significant drug trafficking prosecutions in Ulster County.” 

Each of the nine accused individuals involved with the case face a range of imprisonment terms upon conviction, with most facing a minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years. All are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Additionally, Erkan Deniz is charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, Joshua Atkinson is charged with distribution of cocaine and fentanyl and Luis Santiago is charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and fentanyl. These charges of distribution would lengthen initial sentences pertaining to conspiracy and intent charges, as they involve the actual act of dealing the drugs. 

This case is being investigated by HSI and the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with URGENT. There is additional involvement from the New York State Police, the Village of Ellenville Police Department and the White Plains Police Department. This is all with assistance from the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emmet O’Hanlon and Ashlyn Miranda prosecuting once the case goes to court.

Outlining this trend, Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa compared the multi-agency operation to bring down organized drug trafficking to a similar bust from last year. With 12 indicted in the takedown of an operation centered in New Paltz following an investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James and local police, there has been an emphasis on multi-agency cooperation in order to effectively combat this exponentially growing issue. 

“Today’s operation is the culmination of hard work and collaboration between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, New York State Police, Ulster County District Attorney’s Office and our Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement 

Task Force,” stated Figueroa. “We dismantled a drug trafficking organization that would have continued to distribute fentanyl in New York City, Westchester County and the Hudson Valley that could have killed people. The crimes associated with this organization and the negative impact they had on our communities cannot be understated.”

The opioid epidemic in the rural parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills area remains rampant despite concerted efforts. In 2020, Ulster County had the state’s fourth-highest opioid burden according to state health department data. This pertains to deaths, nonfatal overdoses and dependency due to opioids. Ellenville, from where many involved members of the drug trafficking ring are from, borders Sullivan County, which had the state’s second-highest opioid burden and the most fatal overdoses involving fentanyl.

Figueroa commented that law enforcement has “been fighting this epidemic for the last five years,” yet the country as a whole still struggles from imports of hard drugs from beyond the nation’s borders. Highly addictive and widespread, the issue cannot be easily pointed to one source, but law enforcement continues to attempt to identify certain points where the issue stems from in order to have specified targets and concerted efforts in combating the issue. 

This case is part of a larger concerted investigation on a national scale called Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF). OCDETF “identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States,” as explained by the press release from Freedman and the US Attorney’s Office. This disruption and dismantling of drug trafficking and organized crime is done using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. This calls upon strengths from federal, state and local-level law enforcement agencies to both target and effectively take down criminal networks and actions.