Officials accuse NY fire Lt. of leading drug ring

Officials said 29 people, one of them a fire lieutenant and two of them volunteer firefighters, have been charged in connection with drug rings


By Heather Yakin
The Times-Herald

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. — Officials said 29 people, one of them a Middletown fire lieutenant and two of them volunteer firefighters, have been charged in connection with drug rings that trafficked fentanyl and cocaine in Orange County.

Officials said on Tuesday that fire Lt. Paul G. Smith used Middletown's Central Firehouse for drug sales and to hold conspiracy-related meetings.

Prosecutors said one ring sold counterfeit oxycodone pills that were actually made from fentanyl. The other sold cocaine.

Police dubbed the investigation "Operation: Bread, White and Blues," saying the name came from the defendants' use of "bread" for money, "white" for cocaine and the blue-colored "blueberry" pills.

"Many of the people buying these pills thought they were buying OxyContin," Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said, adding that this is the first fentanyl-trafficking ring of this scale in Orange County.

"The unsuspecting people who buy these could take one pill and die. It's that dangerous," said Capt. Brian Shortall of the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The two rings were separate, but connected by two men, officials say: Smith, 48, of the Town of Deerpark, and volunteer Mechanicstown firefighter Robert Dunham Jr., 46, of Middletown. They got the drugs from suppliers and distributed them to others, including providing cocaine to members of two Middletown-based outlaw motorcycle clubs, the Burnt Pistons and the Chingalings.

Police identified the Burnt Pistons president as John Beltempo, 49, of New Windsor, a former police officer with Spring Valley, Town of Wallkill and the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Officials said the Chingaling president, George Thomas, 61, of Bloomingburg, is also a former police officer. In court, his lawyer said he's retired.

Officials said Smith used Middletown's Central Firehouse for some of his illicit business, but no other Middletown firefighters were involved in his illegal activities.

"Essentially, the firehouse was used at times by him to make sales and hold meetings," Hoovler said.

Smith and two other men, Garry Michel, 48, of the Town of Wallkill, and Marquis Gamble, 34, of Nyack have been charged with operating as a major trafficker, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. The charge involves in excess of $75,000 in sales in a six-month period. They and the other defendants have all been charged with second-degree conspiracy, a felony.

Smith has been employed by the City of Middletown Fire Department since March 2002 and in 2017 was paid $103,145.

Early Tuesday morning, the six-month investigation culminated as state police and agents from the FBI and DEA executed more than a dozen search warrants in Orange and Rockland counties. Police seized 1,300 fentanyl pills, more than two and a half pounds of cocaine, more than $200,000 in cash, 25 handguns, multiple rifles, 10 vehicles and two motorcycles.

Hoovler said the drug conspiracies were "very sophisticated," using counter-surveillance and other methods to avoid detection. State police handled the investigation "on a very clandestine level, because of the people involved, because of the possibility of leaks," Hoovler said.

Officials say Michel supplied pills to the conspiracy, providing drugs to Smith and Dunham as well as some street-level dealers, and that Michel used his girlfriend's home in Chester as a stash house.

Official say Marquis Gamble supplied cocaine to Smith, who distributed that drug to Dunham and Joel Gamble, 44, of Cuddebackville, as well as to members of the Chingalings and the Burnt Pistons.

Among the people officials characterized as "street level" pill dealers was Mechanicstown Fire Chief Dominic Guardino, 55, of the Town of Wallkill. Prosecutors said in court that Guardino had used his department-issued vehicle to obtain pills.

Shortall said the investigation began like many others: A new supply of drugs on the street, and investigators working with prosecutors on a plan to find the source. In late December, police say, they arrested Kenneth Nunez, 39, of Spring Valley with 800 grams of cocaine he was delivering from Marquis Gamble to Smith.

The defendants were arraigned over the course of the day in Orange County Court by Judge Craig Brown. Bails ranged from $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond for one woman who turned herself in to police to $1 million cash or $3 million bond for the top defendants. Brown ordered Smith held without bail. Prosecutors will begin presenting the case to a grand jury on Friday, they said in court.

"It's disturbing," Shortall said at the barracks, where police had laid out rolls of $100 bills, bottles and packages of pills and an array of guns seized in the raids. "This is a person that's supposed to go out there and help, and instead he's out there peddling stuff that's probably killing people."

Copyright 2019 The Times-Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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