MILTON — One-hundred-sixty members of law enforcement spread out across Milton on Thursday, sweeping up most of the 22 individuals indicted this week on federal drug charges stemming from two operations which were trafficking narcotics from Puerto Rico to Milton and several other locations across the country.

U.S. Attorney David Freed — flanked by federal and local law enforcement officials — led a press conference Friday from the Milton borough hall, outlining the success of Operation Save Milton.

Freed said the indictments were the result of a lengthy and thorough investigation by multiple agencies, launched in 2016 and involving the Milton Police Department and the United States Postal Service.

Seventeen of the 22 individuals indicted were taken into custody Thursday. The names of the other five individuals alleged to have been involved in the operations have not been released as they have not yet been taken into custody.

It is alleged the operations occurred between March 1, 2017, and March 13, 2019, in Dauphin and Northumberland counties, as well as between October 2016 and March 13, 2019, in Northumberland and Union counties.

The names of the individuals charged, their ages, hometowns, and charges are:

• Kevin Caban Robles, 29, Harrisburg, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, more than one kilogram of heroin, more than 40 grams of fentanyl; two counts of distribution of heroin; two counts of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine; and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and cocaine.

• Reymond Nieves Hernandez, 31, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than one kilogram of heroin; and two counts of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride. He was identified by Freed as the “leader of a distribution cell in Milton.”

• Ricarte Bristol Negron, 46, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and posses with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and more than 100 grams of heroin; and attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Freed identified Negron as a lieutenant working under Nieves Hernandez.

• Harold Maysonet Pagan, 25, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and more than 100 grams of heroin.

• Jamie Morales Rivera, 27, Wisconsin, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and heroin; attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

• Justo Melendez, 38, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and posses with intent to distribute cocaine.

• Bardimir Aviles Hernandez, 51, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine.

• Robert Pacheco, 38, Sunbury, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin.

• Jose Miguel Guzman Ruiz, 36, Lewisburg, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and heroin; attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine; and distribution of cocaine.

• Francisco Javier Ortiz Candaelaria, 34, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and heroin; distribution of heroin and cocaine; distribution of heroin; felon in possession of firearm; and possession of firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crime.

• Ariel Diaz, 33, Williamsport, conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine; and two counts of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

• Robert Rodrigeuz Bristol, 28, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine; possession of firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; and distribution of heroin and cocaine.

• Tony Orlando Garcia, 40, Northumberland, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine; and attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

• Israel Gonazels, 37, Lewisburg, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and heroin; two counts of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine; and distribution of cocaine.

• Yarelis Seda, 24, Lewisburg, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and heroin; attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine; and distribution of cocaine.

• Kimberly Roman Rivera, 33, Lewisburg, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute unspecified quantity of cocaine, and heroin.

• Denny Fernandez-Molina, 44, Milton, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute unspecified quantity of cocaine and heroin; and four counts of distribution of cocaine. He was labeled by Freed as a “substantial cocaine distributor.”

Morales Rivera was taken into custody Thursday in Wisconsin, Freed said. Arrests were also made in Puerto Rico in connection with the case.

Freed said those indicted were part of two different but connected distribution networks reaching from Puerto Rico to Milton, and were “responsible for a sharp increase in drug trafficking and overdose deaths in Milton.”

He noted that none of the charges filed are related to the fatal overdoses.

Puerto Rican connection

According to Freed, kilogram quantities of cocaine were being sent form Puerto Rico, through the United States Postal Service, to Pennsylvania. Drugs were also being purchased in California and transported to Pennsylvania.

The cocaine was then distributed to co-conspriators for further distribution to customers in Northumberland, Union and Dauphin counties.

In pointing to the far-reaching scope of the case, Freed referenced an incident which occurred June 14 at Newark International Airport.

According to indictment paperwork provided at the press conference, two of the individuals who have yet to be taken into custody in the case planned to fly from New Jersey to California to facilitate the purchase of 10 grams of cocaine.

“In furtherance of their plan (the suspects) attempted to transport $149,900 in U.S. currency through the Newark International Airport,” the indictment said.

As part of the case, it was noted that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is seeking the forfeiture of $149,900 from two suspects.

Freed alleges that apartments were maintained in Milton for the purpose of packaging, storing and distributing heroin and cocaine.

During his remarks, Freed labeled the Broadway Apartments — located along Long Alley — as being a primary distribution point for the drugs.

Freed said confidential informants purchased drugs from that location on multiple occasions, with the in-depth investigation proceeding to identify alleged suppliers.

He noted that additional charges may be filed due to drugs and weapons that were uncovered as the suspects were taken into custody on Thursday.

As officers fanned out across Milton to arrest the suspects, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daryl Bloom said seven firearms were seized, including an AK-47 and six pistols.

“We find that guns go hand-in-hand with drug trafficking,” Bloom said. “It’s very important to get those guns. One of those guns was stolen.”

Bulk quantities of heroin were allegedly found inside of a toilet on Thursday. Hundreds of packets of heroin, as well as crack cocaine and marijuana were also uncovered.

Drug weights ‘highly significant’

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz was among the participants in the press conference. He said the amount of drugs the individuals were allegedly trafficking was significant.

“We are typically used to a couple of grams (of heroin),” he said. “These weights are highly significant.”

Both he and Milton Police Department Chief Curt Zettlemoyer said the sweep sends a message that drug traffickers will not be tolerated in Milton.

“To have the DEA work with the Milton police... that sends a message,” Matulewicz said.

Freed lauded Zettlemoyer, and the Milton Police Department, for its work on the case.

“The chief has been an incredible ally in this case for us,” Freed said. “I have to commend him on his patience and professionalism allowing this operation to be concluded.”

It takes patience

It was noted throughout the press conference that it takes patience on the parts of everyone involved — including the community — when investigating a drug operation the size of the one which was broken up in Milton.

“Milton is a good community,” Zettlemoyer said. “There is a lot of good people in this community.”

He credited community members with providing tips which helped with the investigation.

Zettlemoyer said Thursday’s sweep started at 5 a.m. and involved multiple agencies.

“Everything was a success,” he said. “The planning that went into this with our mutual aid partners was unreal.”

‘Thank you’

Frank Rodriguez, owner of Against the Grain Barbershop on Broadway and a member of the Northumberland County Opioid Coalition, offered thanks to the law enforcment officials for making the arrests.

“I want to thank you guys,” he said, during a question-and-answer period of the press conference.

“My business is located right there (near Broadway Apartments),” Rodriguez continued. “I was tired of finding needles in the dumpster.”

He also admitted to being initially frustrated with officers as it appeared as if the problem wasn’t being addressed.

Following the press conference, Rodriguez described law enforcement’s work on the case as “awesome.”

“I’ve lost friends from drug overdoses,” he said. “Now, it’s sort of reassuring (the drug arrests were made).”

Rodriguez described the activities that were taking place near his business as being “upsetting” and “disconcerting.”

Milton Mayor Ed Nelson said he wass occasionally contacted by community members wondering why it appeared as if nothing was being done about the drug problem.

“It takes time to do these things,” Nelson said. “Now we are seeing it come to fruition.

“The Milton (police) department and all the other departments... I commend them for a job well done.”

Zettlemoyer said the department will remain vigilant to get the message out that drug dealers are not welcome in Milton.

“We will continue to be out there,” he said. “Don’t do this in our (community).”

As his officers would be on patrol, Zettlemoyer said they were keeping an eye on numerous activities taking place at the Broadway Apartments. The evening after the sweep, he described the environment as being completely different.

“Last night, (the officers) described the area as being a ghost town,” Zettlemoyer said.

He offered a special thanks to the multiple agencies which were involved in the investigation and Thursday’s sweep, including officers involved with the Montour-Northumberland County Drug Task Force, the Watsontown Police Department and it’s drug-detection dog Mariska, the Union County Sheriff’s Office and its K-9s, Northumberland County Adult Probation, Northumberland County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Pennsylvania State Police, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Marshals Service, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Buffalo Valley Regional Police.

Zettlemoyer said Evangelical Community Hospital provided medical support on Thursday.

Freed noted that Bloom will be prosecuting the case, which is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a joint effort between federal, state and local agencies.

It was also stressed that indictments are only allegations, with all persons charged presumed to be innocent until they are found guilty in court.

Under federal law, the maximum penalty for those charged range from 20 years to life in prison if they are convicted.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.