Narcotics Task Force Seizes 50,000 Fentanyl Pills, Worth $1 Million, in Lower Manhattan
While street-level drug activity is relatively rare at the southern tip of Manhattan, the neighborhood saw another major drug bust a few weeks ago, when a trafficker from California was caught with a large narcotics shipment, apparently intended for eventual transfer to lower-level distributors.
In December, agents working for the City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor converged on the entrance of the AC New York Hotel by Marriott, at 151 Maiden Lane (near South Street). There, they approached 24-year-old David Carranza, who had just arrived from Pixley, California. Detectives assigned to New York Drug Enforcement Task Force had been surveilling Carranza, as part of an ongoing investigation.
“During the surveillance, I observed Carranza enter the back seat of a vehicle while carrying a large cardboard box,” NYPD Detective Kieron Ramdeen says in the criminal complaint filed hours later. “Upon approaching the vehicle, I found Carranza in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle with the cardboard box open next to him.”
This box was removed from the vehicle by Detective Ramon Garcia, who found inside nine tightly bound wrapped packages of pills. Detective Garcia says in the complaint that “four of the packages were wrapped with black plastic wrapping and contained light blue fentanyl pills. Five of the packages wrapped with clear plastic wrap over black plastic wrap, and contained multi colored fentanyl pills. In total, I recovered from inside of these nine packages approximately 50,000 fentanyl pills total. About half of the pills recovered were multi-colored alleged fentanyl pills marked ‘M30,’ and the other half were light blue fentanyl pills marked ‘M30.’”
The M30 marking is meant to deceive drug buyers into believing that they are purchasing Oxycodone, a powerful opioid that is meant for the treatment of severe discomfort, but is highly addictive and widely abused.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is the most powerful narcotic ever developed by medical science. Its legitimate clinical use is typically limited to end-of-life cancer patients afflicted with extreme pain. It is up to 100 times more potent than oxycodone, and a dosage of as little as two milligrams of fentanyl (the equivalent weight and size of about a dozen grains of table salt) is typically fatal. More than 70,000 Americans died from fentanyl overdoses in 2021, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. That death toll exceeds the tally for oxycodone, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine combined.
Because pills laced with fentanyl typically sell on the street for roughly $20 each, the stash seized by Detectives Ramdeen and Garcia in front of the hotel on Maiden Lane is estimated by prosecutors to have a retail value of approximately $1 million.
Mr. Carranza has been indicted on a charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, a Class A-1 felony, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and a maximum term of life without the possibility of parole. He has also been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a Class B felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said, “thousands of New Yorkers are mourning precious lives claimed by deadly fentanyl.” She added, “fentanyl saturates the illegal drug supply in New York City and is a factor in roughly 80 percent of overdose deaths,” noting that more than 2,300 New Yorkers died from fentanyl overdoses in the 12-month period ending last July.
The arrest of Mr. Carranza was not the first time that the AC New York Hotel by Marriott has been the venue for a major drug seizure. Last July, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducting an undercover surveillance outside the hotel nabbed a team of alleged traffickers who were arrested with total of more than 140 pounds of crystal methamphetamine.
The agents were waiting for 19-year-old Luis Estrada, of San Diego, whom they had recently tracked driving across country with an associate in a rented vehicle. When Mr. Estrada exited the hotel and began wheeling a black suitcase along Maiden Lane, they approached the young man, and took him into custody based on an arrest warrant. A search of the suitcase revealed that it contained more than 40 pounds of crystal methamphetamine.
Three days later, the same DEA team caught up with Mr. Estrada’s traveling companion, Carlos Santos, of San Jose, California. Mr. Santos was spotted by the federal agents in a parking lot on West 219th Street, where he was observed removing industrial canisters of compressed air from a white van, and using power tools to cut them open. The DEA agents took Mr. Santos into custody, and then searched the air canisters, which were found to contain an additional 100 pounds of crystal methamphetamine. The DEA estimated that the street value of this combined cache of drugs was slightly more than $1.2 million.