Forest Hills drug ring busted: DA

By Adam Kramer

An international drug ring that distributed millions of dollars of the hallucinogenic drug Ecstasy out of a Forest Hills apartment was smashed by a combination of city, state and federal law enforcement agencies, officials announced last week.

Police seized 300,000 tablets of the drug with an estimated retail value of $7.5 million retail value and $550,000 in cash, law enforcement officials said.

Authorities arrested 26 people, including 10 from Astoria, Bayside, College Point, Elmhurst, Flushing and Forest Hills. Police still were searching for 11 more individuals, including five more people from Queens.

The operation, run by six Israeli nationals, was shut down with the arrest of the principals and the mid-level buyers and suppliers, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown told a news conference Feb. 23.

But the suspected leader of the operation, Oshri Amar of 66-36 Yellowstone Blvd. in Forest Hills, is still at large, Brown said.

“This is an extremely significant case because it shuts off one of the most active supply lines for Ecstasy in the New York region, distributing as many as 100,000 tablets a week,” Brown said.

The defendants were charged with conspiracy to sell and distribute a controlled substance as well as various counts of criminal possession and or sale of a controlled substance. They face sentences ranging from 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Lewis Rice, a special agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the Ecstasy trade is a very lucrative one. He said the production of the drug costs from 50 cents to a dollar a tablet, while the wholesale price is $6-$8 and goes for $25-$30 a tablet in the city's nightclubs.

Brown said the investigation began 10 months ago when his office got the first tip that Amar was allegedly trafficking in Ecstasy at city clubs.

His office then received permission to wiretap the phones of Amar and his associates, he said. The first group of arrests took place on Feb. 11 and another group was arrested Feb. 23, the Queens DA said.

Officials said the Ecstasy tablets were being produced in the Netherlands and Belgium and transported to the United States by couriers through France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Once the drugs arrived in New York City, the dealers shipped the Ecstasy out to mid-level buyers and suppliers in Florida, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, California, Ohio, Massachusetts and New York.

Ecstasy is the street name for MDMA, a stimulant, which has hallucinogenic properties. The drug limits inhibitions, heightens the user's senses and enables the user to stay up throughout the night and participate in strenuous activities like dancing.

The drug can cause brain damage, but the after-effects of a night on Ecstasy are dehydration, paranoia, hallucinations, and depression.

Brown said the drug, which can cause severe dehydration, has been a boon for nightclubs, which have been known to turn off the drinking water and then sell bottled water for $5 per bottle.

“A major drug distribution center has been put out of business and a dangerous drug has been taken out of the hands of teens,” said Brown.

At the news conference Police Commissioner Howard Safir said over the past year more than 2 million Ecstasy tablets have been taken off the streets and the breaking up of the drug ring was a classic example of “how drug enforcement was supposed to work.”

He praised the city, state, federal and international law enforcement officers' ability to work together to dismantle the ring.

“This was the largest drug bust to date for the year 2000,” said Brown. “The trouble is we are seeing a resurgence of Ecstasy. It was around in the '80s but not in the quantity it is today.”

Those arrested from Queens are: Patrick Amar of 105-10 66th Ave. in Forest Hills; Yariv Azulay of 152-18 Union Turnpike in Flushing; Neil Amirian of 68-24 138th St. in Flushing; Avi Aulov of 69-33 184th St. and 75-46 190th St. in Flushing; Yitshak Benyamini of 23-38 41st St. in Astoria; Sharlie Castro of 18-15 215th St. in Bayside; Hector Estrella of 62-27 108th St. in Forest Hills; Marco Franco of 58-33 84th Place in Elmhurst; Stephen Rueda of 144-48 28th Ave. in College Point; and Adam Splinis of 25-56 120th St. in College Point.

The police are still looking for: suspected leader Oshri Amar of 66-36 Yellowstone Blvd. in Forest Hills; Louis Hendler of 110-35 72nd Rd. in Kew Gardens; Eliezer Kolansky of 49-35 167th St. in Flushing; Natan Nissim of 18-15 215th St. in Bayside; and Theohari Papageorgiq of 164-11 Goethals Ave. in Jamaica.

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