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Drug ring had big ambitions

Drug ring had big ambitions

The problem was a simple one, and Kerry Kirkem had a simple answer. One of his alleged workers, Melf

The problem was a simple one, and Kerry Kirkem had a simple answer.

In detail

To read the entire text of the grand jury indictment, click here.

To read wiretap transcripts of calls involving the alleged drug ring, click here.

One of his alleged workers, Melford Perkins, needed to get rid of some product, but the phone used for the orders was tied up by others.

Perkins was just going to wait his turn. Once the other product was moved, he could move his.

“Alright, check this out here,” Kirkem says in state police-recorded wiretaps, “tomorrow ... I’m a gonna come up with a schedule myself,” Kirkem told Perkins. He would explain it to everybody the next day.

“And what, what it is, is what I say it’s gonna be,” Kirkem continued. “That’s what it’s gonna be, and if nobody like it, then [expletive] it.”

It was ideas like the schedule that authorities say gave the operation allegedly run by Kirkem and another man, Oscar Mora, the look of a regular, legitimate business.

But this business, authorities allege, was anything but: Its business was selling cocaine and heroin to anyone who would buy.

Customers would call the operation’s community cellphones, dubbed by some as “fiend phones,” and then be directed to one of several locations in the city to make their purchase.

Once there, they would purchase “hard” or “soft” or they’d go for the “D,” references to crack cocaine, powder cocaine and heroin.

Authorities believe the operation had been ongoing for at least a year. State police and federal agents won wiretap warrants in January. And as they listened in, the organization appeared to grow ever bolder, with talk of taking over the area’s drug trade.

Behind the schemes

The operation has received much attention over the past week and a half, with marquee names as Greg and Lisa Kaczmarek attached. Lisa was arrested. Greg, her husband and Schenectady’s former police chief, was not, though his name has been sullied.

But as law enforcement documents, including wiretap transcripts and a search warrant application outline, show, there was much more to this operation than big names.

The papers give an unusual look into the internal workings of what authorities allege was a drug organization with designs on taking over the Schenectady County narcotics trade. They also give an unusual look into how the state police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, with federal authorities, took down this operation and its work force, which allegedly numbered two dozen.

The papers include transcripts of wiretapped conversations and an application for search warrants on locations throughout the city.

Seized in the operation were 58 ounces of cocaine, 1,600 small bags of heroin, a semi-automatic assault rifle and a handgun. The value of the drugs was placed at nearly $200,000. Cash was also seized, amounting to more than $22,000.

One estimate in the warrant application had weekly proceeds for heroin alone at $42,000.

And members vowed to protect that trade.

“If that’s what they wanna do, Mel, we can go to war,” Kirkem tells Perkins in a conversation Feb. 18 over a perceived rival. “Believe me, they, they would not win.”

“Oh,” Perkins replies, “they wouldn’t even come close, wouldn’t even come close.”

Authorities have credited work from several agencies, including the state police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, with leading to the arrests. Officials, however, have singled out for praise state police Investigator Chris Gilroy and DEA Agent Terry Dunlap.

Gilroy did many of the early interviews and conducted surveillance up until the arrests were made.

Corporate structure

The investigation started, authorities have said, in early 2007 through simple traffic stops, one each in Saratoga and Greene counties.

From there, they followed a series of promising leads and dead ends, with informants offering their help and then disappearing and refusing to cooperate further.

It was through those informants that authorities first learned of Kirkem, or “Slim,” and got reports of large quantities of cocaine, with as much as two kilograms purchased for distribution at a time.

By November, visual surveillance was under way, with the undercover buys coming shortly after.

One informant told of scheduled work hours, incentives and penalties for workers. One worker was even reported to have been fired.

In one of the first undercover buys, an informant was directed from the community phone to 514 Hegeman St. to purchase $600 in heroin. Once there, the undercover agent was motioned with a whistle to the back, where more than two dozen bags of heroin were sold, each stamped “Sick Call.”

In one January sale to an undercover agent, by Kirkem himself, four bundles were sold. The informant was told he’d have to purchase at least five bundles before receiving a discount.

The organization, which at one point dubbed itself the “Warrant Squad,” had five alleged drug sale locations throughout the city, including Hegeman Street in the Bellevue neighborhood. There were also two stash houses, one on the North Side and one in the Stockade.

Customers would be directed to one of the addresses, depending on who had the fiend phone at that time.

The business aspect even extended to some of the callers.

“Hey, you open?” a caller identified as Anna asked Feb. 12, just before noon. The worker replied that they were, sending Anna to 1044 University Place.

That address appears to have been targeted as early as August. Todd Rodriguez, one of those indicted, was arrested six weeks later, records showed, accused of selling heroin in front of the address. The charge, however, was quickly dropped due to a solid alibi: he was in jail.

Efficient management

There were two organization sites at the University Place address, apartments 4 and 5. At one point on Feb. 19, defendants Michelle Hernandez Soto and Hazel Nader took turns answering the phone and sent alternating customers to the apartments.

“You never know where the next place is gonna be at,” a man by the name of Cotton tells Nader.

“We always mix it up,” Nader replied.

Nader, 42, authorities allege, was a manager in the operation, ensuring that the operation ran efficiently. She helped organize work schedules and helped make sure workers turned in the correct amount of money.

She allegedly helped set the February schedule with Kirkem.

“Yeah, because Mel wanting these phones every weekend is not fair,” she notes at one point.

“Why the [expletive] not?” Kirkem replies. “He has it every weekend; why it ain’t fair?”

From Jan. 31 to Feb. 25, a total of 106 calls were made on Nader’s land-line phone. Of those, 93 were to a phone used by Kirkem; 13 were to the work phone.

Regular trips were being made to their alleged Long Island supplier, Maximo Doe. One of the main alleged transport workers, or mules, Misty Gallo, ran into trouble Feb. 20, when her shipment was quietly seized by troopers looking to see how the organization would react.

By March, days before the first arrests were made, Kirkem allegedly turned to other mules, Steven Torres and Lizvette Brenes.

They went to make the trip to Long Island on March 3, according to documents. Gilroy, conducting surveillance, watched as the two stopped for gas at the Crane Street Cumberland Farms.

In a conversation with Kirkem just prior, Torres attempted to confirm they would be returning by the next morning.

“Listen, um, we’re definitely getting everything today, right?” Torres asked, “ ’Cause I got drug court tomorrow morning.”

Kirkem confirmed they would not be staying.

Kirkem would be arrested nine days later.

That conversation took place two weeks after one between Kirkem and Perkins.

By that time, with investigators already racking up the evidence against them, the organization had its sights on bigger prizes. There was talk of even moving into Albany.

“The team that’s behind,” Kirkem tells Perkins Feb. 16, not realizing he was being recorded, “is so strong, we about to take over the entire Schenectady; we too strong, we too strong for anybody.”

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