Major Drug Ring Is Broken In Bucks And Philadelphia The $16 Million In Seized Cocaine Was The Largest Haul Ever In Bucks, The District Attorney Said.

Posted: September 15, 1998

A major drug ring operating in Philadelphia and Bucks County, allegedly having strong ties to New York City and Latin American gangs, has been cracked with several arrests and the seizure of 228 pounds of cocaine valued at more than $16 million, law-enforcement officials said yesterday.

The arrests and drug haul came after a 17-month investigation by a dozen agencies in Philadelphia and Bucks County, said Bucks County District Attorney Alan Rubenstein and Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham at a joint news conference in Doylestown.

Rubenstein said it was the largest drug seizure in the county's history.

It was also one of the biggest ever in the region. In April, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration arrested five men at Philadelphia International Airport after they allegedly had tried to retrieve suitcases containing nearly 200 pounds of cocaine that had arrived with them on a flight from Puerto Rico.

That seizure was described by law-enforcement officials at the time as the largest local drug interception since February 1996, when authorities seized 500 pounds of cocaine smuggled aboard a ship arriving from Puerto Rico.

``This is a major, major drug haul, and the kind of organization that needs to be taken down,'' Abraham said.

Rubenstein said the case was capped by the Aug. 26 arrest of Luis Rivera, 32, of the 9000 block of Convent Street in Northeast Philadelphia. He said Rivera was the boss of ``the Rivera organization,'' which he said had strong ties to gangs in New York and South America.

The cocaine was found in the trunk of a Buick LeSabre in the garage of Rivera's duplex in what Abraham called a ``nice, quiet neighborhood, near a school and a church. It is the kind of neighborhood where people don't think drugs go on.''

Rubenstein and Pennsylvania State Police Major Tyree C. Blocker, director of the Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement, said the 85 percent pure cocaine was earmarked for Bucks County.

Blocker said the cocaine was about a one-month supply. ``That's what hits the streets,'' he said.

Cpl. Richard Kurth of the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Strike Force said the seized cocaine was an ``impressive amount'' that would have made ``about 1 million little baggies that could have been on the street.''

Rubenstein said the case was not announced earlier because it was an ongoing investigation, and authorities are still looking for other sources of cocaine.

Rubenstein said police were still searching for Miguel A. Garcia, 29, of Philadelphia, whom they allege is Rivera's boss.

Besides the cocaine, which Rubenstein said was estimated to be worth a ``street price'' of $16.6 million when adulterated for sale, Bucks County Court Judge Kenneth G. Biehn ordered the forfeiture of a $400,000, four-bedroom, six-bathroom house in Hilltown Township, owned by David E. Campbell, 32, one of those arrested.

Rubenstein said $585,000 in cash was seized from Garcia's assets, though he would not say how the money was taken or where it was found; that $99,000 was taken from Campbell; and that $48,000 was taken from Rivera.

He said Garcia, also known as ``Big Joe,'' had been living on Fordham Road in Philadelphia.

Rivera, whom Rubenstein said was a former radiation technician at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, and Jody Thompson, 24, described as his girlfriend, were arrested Aug. 26 at Campbell's Hilltown Township home and charged with criminal conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver and delivery of cocaine.

According to a probable-cause affidavit, Rivera sold one kilogram of cocaine for $23,500 to a ``cooperating individual'' who was not named.

Campbell, whose occupation was said by Rubenstein to be plumbing, was arrested Aug. 16.

In a state police affidavit for a search warrant, troopers said an unidentified person was arrested in Hilltown Township on Aug. 13 for violating the controlled-substance act.

They said they found $100,000 cash and one-half kilo of cocaine in a safe in a second-floor bedroom in the Hilltown home.

The person, whose identification authorities are protecting, told them he had been involved in selling cocaine for eight to 10 years, obtaining it from Rivera. He said Rivera made two trips recently to New York to bring illegal narcotics back to Philadelphia.

Also arrested in the case were Dale Estus, 43, of the 400 block of Crescent Road, Hatboro, on Aug. 28, charged with possession with intent to deliver; and Phillip Wolotkiewicz, 39, of the 2000 block of Byberry Road, Hatboro, also on Aug. 28, charged with criminal solicitation of a controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver.

Arrested last year during the investigation were Paul Billman of Quakertown, no age given, and Jay Cosner of Buckingham Township, no age given. Both were free on bail.

Doylestown Borough Police Chief James Donnelly said Billman and Cosner pleaded guilty to possession with intent to deliver and allegedly worked for Campbell. They are awaiting sentencing.

Carlos Grajales, 33, a Colombian national with no local address, was arrested Sept. 1 in Hilltown Township. He was charged with taking $19,000 for a kilo of cocaine in the Aug. 26 transaction in which Rivera and Thompson are charged.

Chief Deputy Bucks County District Attorney Gary Gambardella said Rivera, Thompson, Estus, Wolotkiewicz and Grajales are still in Bucks County Prison. Hearing dates have not been set.

Chief Donnelly said the investigation began in 1996 with an anonymous phone call to police.

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