Litter of all sorts — empty beer cans, a Snickers wrapper, a mangled umbrella — lay scattered amidst weeds, leaves and fallen branches in a wooded area behind a chain-link fence on a shaded, sloping side street just south of the city line.
But perhaps, not surprisingly, no syringes.
As a heroin epidemic ravages cities small and large, communities rural and urban, the Bronx has not been spared. In North Riverdale, however, drugs are probably less on some residents’ minds than car thefts, burglaries or illegal parking.
Yet, that’s not to say the drug trade hasn’t snaked its way to this corner of the borough — a fact that became clear a couple weeks back in a high-speed chase ending in a crash that shattered the calm at a quiet intersection — and ultimately the arrest of four men police believe were connected to what’s described as a North Riverdale heroin mill.
Various law enforcement officers — part of the multi-jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Task Force — engaged in hot pursuit Sept. 27 of a man they suspected was involved in a narcotics ring allegedly housed in an apartment building at 210 W. 262nd, just off the northwest corner of Van Cortlandt Park. There police say a heroin mill was in operation — a place where the drug is mixed with others, increasing volume, and broken down into individual glassine bags to sell at around $10 a dose.
The inter-borough pursuit actually started near the drug operation itself, 50th Precinct deputy inspector Terence O’Toole said, where a state trooper and at least one DEA agent investigating the mill spotted the suspect — identified by prosecutors as 31-year-old Jamarky Almanzar — leaving the apartment a little before lunchtime with a large, heavy bag they believe contained a gun and drugs.
“Sometimes these heroin mills will be operating in different places,” shipping drugs around the city, O’Toole said.
Almanzar drove his Jeep Cherokee in Manhattan, according O’Toole as well as DEA spokeswoman Erin Mulvey, before running into an agent and officer near West 46th Street and 12th Avenue, who attempted to stop him in traffic.
“Usually that works because you’ll have cars ahead of you,” O’Toole said. But Almanzar barreled through traffic “and headed at the agent and the trooper,” who fired at him in response.
Almanzar then reversed course, speeding off north back toward the Bronx, O’Toole said, followed along the West Side Highway, in separate vehicles, by the trooper and agent. Eventually Almanzar exited the highway near Broadway and Lakeview Place in North Riverdale, reportedly crashing into at least one of his pursuers’ vehicles. After that, he was arrested.
Two other officers staking out the West 262nd apartment burst into 2C, O’Toole said, prompting at least one person inside — who prosecutors identified as Jormar Farino, 29 — to jump through a window. He was later arrested, as were two others found there.
Through a search warrant, law enforcement officers found 12,000 glassines of heroin — typically used for individual distribution — and a kilo and a half of unprocessed heroin, O’Toole said.
All four men were charged by the city’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. Also arrested were Wellington Heredia-Brito, 28, and Jonathan Dejesus, 29. All four were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and criminally using drug paraphernalia. Almanzar also was charged with attempted aggravated assault upon a police officer, assault, criminal mischief and resisting arrest, according to the prosecutors’ complaint.
One special agent in the bust, Ken Wasley, sought medical treatment for pain and swelling in his hand. He was the one who first approached Almanzar’s car in Manhattan before the driver took off, according to the prosecutors’ report.
“I was shocked when I saw the police,” said James Whittington, a neighbor on West 262nd. “But it’s New York City.”
Even so, the bust changed his perception of North Riverdale.
“If I lived a little further down,” closer to Riverdale, “I’d feel a little safer,” Whittington said.
The bust itself was not technically an NYPD operation, according to the department. Still, when it comes to regulating such activities, stakes are life-and-death, O’Toole said.
“It’s incredibly lucrative for people to be selling drugs,” O’Toole said. “They’re going to do what they want to do to make that money and not go to jail. They’ll shoot. They’ll drive at people. They’ll jump out a window. Try to climb down cable wires. All of these things have happened.”
And while the 5-0 in general has never been a hotbed for drug sales, O’Toole said — with most street transactions involving marijuana, crack cocaine and pills concentrated in Marble Hill and around Webb Avenue — heroin mills like the one on West 262nd are no revelation. Cracking down on them is ongoing work.
“These narcotic operations are occurring daily,” O’Toole said. “Usually they’re very low-key and not obtrusive, but they can become a problem.
“Sept. 27 was an example. This guy drove crazy through Manhattan and the Bronx. He may have had a gun. He endangered numerous lives that day.”