Bucks County authorities have charged nearly a dozen people with running a massive narcotics distribution center out of an unassuming Warminster home, pumping out nearly $8 million of opioids per week, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said Wednesday.
After several months of investigation, the FBI, Pennsylvania state police, and local authorities descended late Tuesday on the single-family home in the 600 block of Cheryl Drive. When they entered, all 11 of those arrested were inside, with some working at basement stations set up for drug packaging, authorities said.
Investigators found about 200 pounds of heroin and fentanyl; bundles packaged for sale; stacks of cash totaling $32,000; 200 discarded heroin wrappers; and a loaded silver Taurus handgun, Weintraub said.
“This is as normal a residential community, 9-to-5 sleepy bedroom community as you will find anywhere in the country,” Weintraub said, “and this was going on right in the middle of it.”
Moises Rodriguez, 42, of Paterson, N.J., and Dariel Vasquez, 38, of Northeast Philadelphia, ran the operation, authorities said, and had often been seen leaving the house with giant trash bags. Weintraub said the pair regularly transported large quantities of drugs to and from the residence, but he did not know to where exactly they had traveled. No attorneys for the men were listed on court documents on Wednesday.
Warminster police have had the home on their radar since July, when an anonymous tip came in about suspicious activity, said Police Chief James Donnelly III.
The case exemplifies why tips from the public are important to authorities, Weintraub said.
“Keep your tips coming,” he said. “They are working."
Those charged were living in the home, Weintraub said, but did not own it. The owner of the property had no idea what was going on there, he added.
Six of the defendants had no fixed address, according to court documents, and Weintraub said he didn’t know what brought them together in this quiet neighborhood, aside from the allure of making a profit. Authorities also said they did not know how long the drug ring had been operating out of that home.
The crew’s secret scheme came to an end on Tuesday.
TV news footage showed officials in hazmat suits and masks appearing to search the property into the night, parking a large truck in the driveway and hauling out dozens of boxes. Weintraub declined to elaborate on the logistics of the federal raid, but said it was “like what you’d see in the movies."
Arrested alongside Rodriguez and Vasquez were Nuris Martinez, Yocasta Maria-Mercedes, Eleni Saturrie, Carlos Garcia-Perez, Roberto Espinal, Jose Luis-Morales, Luis Torres, Devlin Perez, and Luigi Ortega. All face drug distribution and related charges.
All were being held Wednesday at the Bucks County Correctional Facility. Bail for Rodriguez and Vazquez was set at $10 million each; the other nine each had bail set at $5 million.
For years, a heroin epidemic has been building across the country. Fentanyl, heroin’s cheaper, more addictive, and more potent counterpart, has recently increased in popularity, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data. In Pennsylvania, the synthetic opioid was present in 67 percent of the more than 5,000 overdose deaths in 2017.
While urban places like Kensington are considered the epicenter of the crisis, the suburbs have not been untouched.
In an unrelated case last year, Bucks County authorities seized more than 13 pounds of heroin, valued at $4 million, during a routine traffic stop. At the time, Weintraub said the bust was the largest he could recall in recent county history.
The crisis has hit other suburban communities, too. Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, and Camden Counties, as well as Philadelphia, are all designated as High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas because of above-average instances of drug trafficking.