LAWRENCE — As part of the police department’s reinvigorated effort over the last year to crack down on the burgeoning drug trade across the city, three people were arrested Thursday and charged with trafficking $5,000 in heroin and cocaine following a daylong surveillance operation. Police also arrested two more on drug possession charges.
“This was a significant drug operation,” Police Chief John Romero said yesterday. “These were major arrests.”
In addition to more than 60 grams of cocaine and heroin, police also seized an unregistered firearm, nearly 40 rounds of ammunition, almost $4,500 in cash, several cellphones and miscellaneous drug paraphernalia.
Romero said the arrests are a sign that the department, understaffed following massive layoffs in 2010, has nearly returned to its full potential.
“We are in the process of dismantling drug operations in the city,” Romero said. “For two years, we didn’t have the resources.”
In July 2010, the city was forced to lay off 40 police officers due to budget cuts, and Romero had to eliminate the department’s special operations units. Crime spiked as all the officers on the force were put in a “reactive” mode instead of “proactive, crime-fighting” mode, Romero said.
“For two years, all we did was respond to crime because we had to do away with special operations,” he said. “Now, we’re playing catch-up.”
These arrests came following a daylong surveillance set up by the city’s recently re-instated Special Operations-Street Narcotics Unit, acting on tips from neighbors and with help from a confidential informant.
Romero credited neighbors with dropping a dime about the operation.
“Most of our leads come from the neighborhoods,” he said. “That’s how we make these arrests. People call us with drug tips. Believe it or not, these things pay off. ... This was a good-sized drug operation.”
Radames Pimintel, 33, of 14 Cypress St., Lawrence; charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin, trafficking in heroin (over 14 grams), trafficking in cocaine (over 14 grams) and trafficking in cocaine and heroin near a school or park (Bourga Park). Pimintel also had several outstanding warrants for possession and/or distribution of cocaine and heroin.
Jonathan Martinez, 28, of 38 Fulton St., #3, Lawrence; charged with trafficking cocaine and heroin, selling it near a school or park, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
Ronni Sanquintin, 16, 157 West St., 2nd floor, Lawrence, trafficking in heroin and cocaine, unlawful possession of a firearm, improper storage of a firearm, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer.
Two Tewksbury residents, Joseph Coviello, 27, of 60 Berry Drive, and Christopher Robertson, 28, of 40 Windsor Drive, were charged with possession of heroin. Robertson also had multiple outstanding warrants for a variety of offenses, including motor vehicle, drug and assault and battery charges.
During a search of an apartment at 157 West St. following the arrests, police recovered $4,334 in cash, a .38-special black revolver, 30 grams of heroin and 36 grams of cocaine, with a combined street value of about $5,000. Also seized as evidence were several cell phones, 187 grams of “white cutting agent,” and about 20 rounds of ammunition.
According to detailed reports on the incident by detectives David Moynihan Jr., Shaun McLellan and Dean Murphy, members of the Street Narcotics Unit were met at 9 a.m. Thursday by Essex County Deputy Sheriff Willy Castro, who informed them that he had a confidential informant who had been purchasing drugs over the last three months from the man police later identified as Pimintel.
The informant said she would call Pimintel’s phone, pre-order heroin, and then meet somewhere in a neighborhood off Broadway — near Florence, West, Acton or Washington streets.
Detectives set up surveillance in the area and the informant made a call to Pimintel. As detectives watched, Pimintel arrived at their meeting spot and got into the woman’s vehicle. They drove off, followed by police, and returned to the same spot. Pimintel got out and went into a nearby store. Police later determined that the informant had purchased a bag of heroin, which was taken into custody.
Detectives continued watching the store, and followed Pimintel as he left and attempted to make another, alleged drug transaction. This time, it appears he hid heroin inside his mouth and went up to the passenger side of a black Grand Am parked at the 7-11 on Broadway.
Later, the car, with a driver and passenger, was pulled over and searched, but nothing was found. The driver said he had no money and had tried to get free heroin from Pimintel, but was unsuccessful. They were free to go.
Detectives continued watching Pimintel, who then entered 157 West St. at about 10:45 a.m.
At 12:15 p.m., he left the building and was followed to Florence Street, where he got into the rear passenger seat of a red Grand Am, which began driving around the neighborhood.
After a while, the car stopped and Pimintel got out and walked off. The car was later stopped by police, which is when Coviello and Robertson were arrested and charged with possession of heroin.
Detectives then arrested Pimintel at Washington Street and Broadway Avenue, recovering $50 in cash and 6 plastic twist-bags of heroin.
After that, police executed a search warrant at 157 West St., Apt. 2, where they encountered Sanquintin and Martinez. As they began to search the apartment, Sanquintin became agitated and lashed out at police before he was subdued and placed into custody. He told police the apartment belonged to his grandmother, but detectives found no evidence of a woman living there.
Instead, they found documents, photos and other personal belongings leading them to the conclusion that the apartment was occupied by Martinez, Pimintel and Sanquintin.
These arrests illustrate how the department has almost completely rebuilt itself in the last two years, with a patchwork of state and federal grants, enabling the city to hire 34 new officers. The extra manpower enabled the chief to re-establish the Special Operations Units in April 2012.
“Since April 2012, we have made over 1,000 arrests,” Romero said. “The 13 people in Special Operations have taken 20 guns off the street, while the rest of the department has taken 70 guns off the street.”
As with yesterday’s arrests, the primary focus of the unit has been the drug trade, which affects nearly every other aspect of city life.
“Our biggest emphasis is attacking the drug problem,” he said. “Violent crime, property crime, you can trace it all back to drugs.”
But the operation also took aim at another, serious problem in the city: illegal guns.
The unregistered, “contraband” gun seized Thursday “will never, ever be used to hurt anybody,” Romero said.