A man turned his dead mother’s Upper West Side apartment into a major cocaine trafficking outpost, hawking up to $300,000 worth of product from the pad a week, the Department of Justice said Thursday.
Gerardo Gonzalez — dubbed by prosecutors the “Cocaine King of the Upper West Side” — is among six men charged with running a multi-state drug ring that moved kilogram quantities of cocaine, and laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Columbus Avenue apartment, charged Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan.
“As this case demonstrates, no neighborhood is too sedate for drug traffickers,” Brennan said.
“As we have seen before, a familiar, quiet residential neighborhood is attractive real estate to a drug dealer who wants to lay low, avoid detection by law enforcement, and escape the notice of stick-up crews who might view him as an easy mark for robbery.”
Over the course of an eight-month probe by agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration and New York State Police, investigators saw Gonzalez, 43, make several cocaine deals outside the building — just two blocks from the American Museum of Natural History — including with his accused supplier, Jose Martinez, prosecutors charged.
The operation’s tentacles stretched from the Upper West Side to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.
In addition to Gonzalez and Martinez, a 40-year-old Jersey City resident, four men are charged: dealers Eric Espinal, 42, of the Bronx; Socrates Santana, 43, of the Upper West Side; and Vance Hall, 34, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and alleged money launderer Xiongbin Zhao, 24, of Brooklyn.
Gonzalez handed off more than $350,000 to Zhao in Brooklyn over two meetings, prosecutors said.
After the second exchange, on Jan. 3, investigators pulled over Zhao’s car and seized a duffel bag stuffed with over $180,000 in cash.
That was when things began to unravel for Gonzalez, who was caught on a Jan. 31 wiretap telling Espinal that he believed he was being followed by the “FBI or DEA,” it was revealed Thursday.
A March 6 raid at the Columbus Avenue apartment turned up over 2 kilograms of coke, more than 30 grams of heroin cut with methamphetamine and horse tranquilizer, $60,000 in cash, and assorted drug paraphernalia, prosecutors said.
A search of Espinal’s Bronx apartment on the same day yielded 1 pound of coke, 4 pounds of marijuana and $30,000 in cash.
Gonzalez and Espinal face a slew of charges, including conspiracy and multiple counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Santana is charged with conspiracy and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Martinez and Hall each face a single charge of conspiracy, while Zhao is charged with money laundering.
Gonzalez, Santana and Hall all pleaded not guilty at their Thursday morning arraignments in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Through his lawyer, Gonzalez griped that the $20,000 he put up for bail last week was deemed insufficient Thursday by Judge Abraham Clott.
“[The $20K was] hard-earned over a lifetime,” said Daniel Gotlin, Gonzalez’s attorney. “[Gonzalez] is here and he doesn’t want his family to lose this money. These are hard-working people.”
Clott countered, “What was actually received is ludicrously insufficient to guarantee a defendant’s presence in a case of this magnitude.”
Clott ordered that Gonzalez’s family must now post $250,000 in collateral to ensure Gonzalez’s appearance.
Gonzalez was ultimately remanded, while Santana and Hall were allowed to go free until their next appearances.
The arraignments of Martinez, Espinal and Zhao are pending.