EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 3, 2014

Cocaine worth $400K stashed in veggie shipment to Lawrence

Two NY men arrested; shipment to Lawrence originated from Dominican Republic

By Jill Harmacinski

---- — LAWRENCE — Detectives this weekend intercepted a produce shipment from the Dominican Republic via Florida and confiscated 10 kilos of cocaine with a street value of roughly $400,000.

Two New York men were placed under arrest after the vegetable shipment containing hidden supplies of cocaine was delivered to Mayias Wholesale Warehouse at 1 Broadway, according to a police report.

Arrested were Francisco Gonzalez, 50, of Manhattan and Miguel Betances, 60, of Nanuet, N.Y. who were both charged with trafficking more than 200 grams of cocaine.

Each kilo has a street value of roughly $40,000, said James Fitzpatrick, Interim Lawrence Police Chief.

The investigation was launched last Thursday, when Lawrence Detective Capt. Roy Vasque, who leads the city’s street narcotics enforcement unit, was notified by Homeland Security officials that a delivery of cocaine would be arriving in Lawrence on Saturday, according to a police report.

Lawrence Detective Robert LeFebre working with federal drug agents later learned the cocaine would be arriving via Florida in “a mixed shipment of produce originating from the Dominican Republic.”

Several pallets within the shipment “contained boxes of produce ... with cocaine packages,” LeFebre wrote in a report.

On Saturday morning, local, state and federal drug detectives along with a deputy from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, were waiting for the shipment to be delivered at Mayias.

Around 11 a.m., the officers saw “several unknown Hispanic males” along with Betances helping unload pallets of produce from a 53 foot trailer marked “Florida Beauty Florida” on the side, LeFebre wrote.

The detectives continued watching the business overnight and into Sunday morning.

Then, according to police, around 9:30 a.m., Betances and Gonzales arrived at Mayias in a gray Toyota Highlander. They entered the building through the front door.

Later, Betances backed the Highlander up to double doors in front of the business. Agents and officers watched as Betances and Gonzalez loaded “up the back of the Highlander with assorted weighted cardboard boxes and bags of produce,” LeFebre wrote.

Driving away in the SUV, the pair was quickly pulled over by state police.

Police searched the back of the Highlander and found two small boxes with “Dulceria Rodriguez” written on the side "Dulceria" in English is "Candy Shop." Both boxes contained packages of cocaine.

Betances and Gonzalez were placed under arrest, police said.

Police, armed with a search warrant, then went into 1 Broadway with Essex County Deputy Sheriff Leonardo Jorge and his canine partner, Gunny.

During the search, Gunny “alerted his handler for the presence of narcotics in the area of pallets containing the boxes marked vegetables,” LeFebre wrote.

Inside those boxes, police found packaged cocaine “resealed inside the walls of a number of brown cardboard boxes,” LeFebre wrote.

All of the narcotics along with the Toyota Highlander were confiscated by police.

Bail was set at $500,000 for both Betances and Gonzalez after their arraignments yesterday afternoon in Lawrence District Court.

Both men are due back in court on July 1 for a probable cause hearing.