Raid of N.E. Philadelphia stash house surprises neighbors

Police say they seized drugs at a McKinley Street house (right) in the Northeast.
Police say they seized drugs at a McKinley Street house (right) in the Northeast. (AUBREY WHELAN / Staff)
Posted: October 12, 2012

For months, Margaret Flite believed the rowhouse next to hers on Northeast Philadelphia's quiet McKinley Street was empty.

She and her husband, who have lived on the 2900 block of McKinley since 1954, knew the house had been bought some time ago, but they never saw anyone entering or leaving. Its empty porch was a stark contrast to the flower beds, children's toys, and lawn chairs outside other houses on the block. Finally, one day, Flite said, she saw someone in the driveway.

"I thought, 'Oh, maybe someone's going to move in,' " she said.

Then, on Tuesday night, police swarmed the house, moving in and out for hours. By the end of the night, she'd learned that the so-called vacant house next door was being used as a "stash house" for a heroin ring - and that drug dealers had stored more than $1.8 million worth of heroin inside.

"It's not what we expected to move in," Flite said Wednesday afternoon.

Philadelphia police arrested four men in Tuesday night's sting: Philadelphians Felix Fernandez, 37; Henry Diaz, 48; and Ramon Pedraza, 26; and Frank Hidalgo, 36, of Allentown.

Police believe Fernandez was a main supplier of heroin to smaller dealers, said Sgt. Robert Friel of the Narcotics Field Unit North. Fernandez and his brother Pedraza ran the McKinley Street heroin operation, and Hidalgo and Diaz worked as part of their organization, Friel said. Fernandez and Pedraza likely answered to another dealer, he added, but the brothers were high-end dealers in their own right.

Fernandez and Pedraza were being held with bail set at $5 million; Hidalgo's bail was set at $1 million, Friel said. Diaz's bail had not yet been set, but he was being charged in connection with the heroin ring, Friel said.

Inside the house, police found only a dining-room table and an inflatable mattress, Friel said. In the basement, they recovered more than five kilograms of heroin - worth $1,881,330 on the street - stored in the rafters and in a bureau, Friel said. In addition, they seized $42,000 worth of cocaine and two bags of horse tranquilizer used to "cut" the heroin, police said.

Several blocks away later that night, they served another search warrant, on the 1300 block of Elbridge Street. There, police said, they seized $15,428 in cash and a 22-caliber Smith & Wesson loaded with five rounds.

Residents of McKinley Street said the raid shocked them.

"It's funny to see that around here," said Kelly Phillips, 29, who lives several houses down from the stash house. "It's not out in the open, I'll tell you that. I've seen people walking by who were high, but I didn't know anybody selling."

Others said that drug activity had long been a problem in the area and that they had made multiple calls to police about drug dealers on the block. Friel said that the unit acted on a tip received two weeks ago from a confidential informant and that members had spent a week gathering information on the stash house.

He added it was unlikely the property owner knew what was going on in the house.

Capt. Debra Frazier, who heads the Narcotics Field Unit North, said the McKinley Street house was likely part of a larger drug operation in the area.

"They were clearly not smaller dealers. They were in the upper echelons," Frazier said, although the drug ring, she added, was likely not gang-related.

Still, she said, a drug seizure this large will have an impact on dealing for some time. The ring operating out of the stash house, she said, supplied heroin to users throughout the city.

"People will scramble to figure out where to get more," Frazier said. "We've upset the apple cart, for sure."

She said police were optimistic there were more arrests to come.

"We've done a good thing," she said, "but we never think we're at the end of it."

Contact Aubrey Whelan at 215-854-2771,, or follow on Twitter @aubreyjwhelan.

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