Mike Piazza Talks Current Mets Lineup On Opening Day
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Mets great Mike Piazza may not be taking the field Thursday, but he’ll still be at Citi Field on Opening Day.
The 12-time All Star and 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner played with the Mets until 2005 and says years later, he still misses Opening Day with the team.
“It's always a thrill as a player, Opening Day, because it's such a tradition in baseball and in New York it's even more special because of the intensity the fans here,” Piazza said. “There’s not a day that doesn't go by that you don't miss it, so you miss it every day as a player and so it is very special.”
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The former catcher says he’s already offered advice to newcomer Pete Alonso, who makes his Citi Field debut on Thursday, telling him to “drink it in and enjoy it.”
Piazza says “it takes a special person to really do well in New York” and that Alonso already shaping up to be a great addition to the team.
“He's off to a great start and I think even more so, I'm completely convinced he's gonna be a great player, but he looks and, just from when I've talked to him, being a great kid as well and a good person,” Piazza says.
Starting the season on the road has given Alonso a chance to break into the big leagues with a little less of a microscope, but Piazza says that he’s already begun to make a name for himself. It also helps that he has the support of veterans such as Robinson Cano and Jacob deGrom.
RELATED: What's New At Citi Field Ahead Of Mets' Opening Day?
“A guy like Robinson Cano, he makes the team better just by his presence in the lineup,” Piazza says.
As for deGrom, the former Met says “he's a great competitor, he has great stuff, he's a great guy in the clubhouse and when he won the Cy Young, as I said, I put a note out that I'm proud of him because he's a good guy and he works hard, but he's a bulldog on the mound and he's got all those great qualities, so I think we're very blessed to have him.”
Neil A. Carousso produced special coverage of the Mets 2019 home opener at Citi Field, including Brad Heller's interview with Mike Piazza, for WCBS Newsradio 880 - the flagship station of the New York Mets.
By Neil A. Carousso, ConnectingVets.com and WCBS Newsradio 880NEW YORK, NY -- Sometimes horsing around is therapy.
For Gold Star father Ken Boyd and U.S. Army veteran Mary Ballengee, equestrian therapy has been instrumental in survival.
"When you become a Gold Star parent, it's probably the darkest, deepest day of your life," said Boyd whose only child C.J. served as a U.S. Marine Corps corporal. He died in Afghanistan. "We found some solace through equine therapy, working with horses. [It] truly saved my life from suicide and other bad things that go on and happen."
Boyd's wife joined a Gold Star mothers retreat hosted by BraveHearts where they went horseback riding. Boyd saw progress in his wife's spirits, but he was reluctant to join. Eventually, she encouraged him and he has never looked back.
"In horses you have to build trust, and the horse will trust you, you trust the horse. It's just this amazing thing that happens with a horse," Boyd said, adding he now volunteers several days a week with BraveHearts, which is a non-profit organization that aims to reduce the veterans suicide rate of 20 deaths per day.
"I love going there because we do retreats for veterans and you see some of these kids that come in that they don't want to be there. They get off the bus from the VA and they don't really care about a horse, they don't do anything. Two hours later they have a smile on their face, there's brightness in their eyes, they're talking, they found something that trusts them, that they can trust. It's just amazing to see a transformation in how they want to come back and how they want to do things," said Boyd. "So, we've dedicated our lives and our future to pay it forward on our son's behalf to help all the other veterans, to help take care of these kids when they come back."
Boyd will be join Ballengee and many others on BraveHearts’ "Trail to Zero" - a 20-mile horseback ride around Manhattan on Saturday, September 15 to raise awareness of the high veterans' suicide rate. Participants will ride through the heart of New York City, including Times Square, Central Park and the World Trade Center. They both hope to bring that trail down to zero.
Ballengee served from 1975-78. She battled with trauma from active duty for nearly two decades before she was introduced to equine therapy with a fellow veteran.
"I was really shut down and this mustang, he saved my life," said Ballengee who now goes by the nickname "Mustang Mary." "He actually taught me many things. He taught me how to breathe out, how to slow down, he taught me patience, he taught me not to be so hard on myself. He gave me life, itself."
Mustang Mary felt a bond with Pecos instantly.
"In the process of me gentling him, and letting down my walls for the first time in 40 years and discovering myself, I also felt a responsibility that he had to be auctioned off and I could not imagine that but I had to have him believe in people," Ballengee said of Pecos, which was initially owned by the U.S. Government.
Mustang Mary said the night Pecos was set to be auctioned, she was planning on killing herself. But, the person who bought Pecos gave the horse to her and she was rejuvenated.
"[Pecos] just told me you have to do something. You have to do something for the other mustangs and you have to do something for the other veterans such as yourself," Ballengee said.
Since then, Mary helped launch an all-female veterans riding group in Texas where she lives with Pecos. She is now a PATH certified instructor through BraveHearts’ training and certification program for veterans.
Mustang Mary will proudly ride "Mighty" around the Big Apple "Trail to Zero."
For her and Boyd, the task is quite mighty, but they've saddled in for a determined equestrian mission to help our heroes like they were healed through the power of horse.
An Unsung 9/11 Hero and the Journey of an American Flag
from Ground Zero to Iraq and Afghanistan to The White House
By Neil A. Carousso, Special to ConnectingVets.com and WCBS Newsradio 880
PATCHOGUE, N.Y. -- A hero-maker serves heroes.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Donato Panico watched in horror as al-Qaeda hijackers crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center.
He felt he had to do something right away, and as the owner of a Smithtown deli for more than three decades, Panico knew he could provide a needed service.
“(My friend) was telling me that all kinds of commanding officers were killed down there and that they had no food system and it was in total chaos,” said Panico.
He then prepared his catering trucks with sandwiches and drove to Ground Zero the next morning. He got through most of the tight security checkpoints in Manhattan, but he was still far away from the Trade Center when commanding officer Louis Pacheco recognized Panico from his Long Island deli and ushered him into site so he could fill a void serving starving, dehydrated, weary, angry and saddened First Responders.
“A couple months later, (Pacheco) presented me with a flag that they hung in front of the Millennium Hotel,” Panico said. The hotel, which is adjacent to One World Trade Center, suffered significant damage in the terrorist attacks.
“He presented it to me and I presented it to a friend of mine in the store whose son was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. He hung it over his camp,” said Panico, continuing, “He had the flag commissioned by President (George W.) Bush and he returned it to me 4 years later."
Panico continued to lend the gifted flag to local police, fire and veterans organizations on Long Island.
“You can’t hold onto something if you don’t give it away,” said Panico when asked why he felt so strongly about imparting such a meaningful and emotional souvenir to patriotic organizations. “It’s not my flag, it’s ours.”
His foundation Heros 4 Our Heroes was born from tragedy. Today, Panico aims to keep a “constant awareness” for the need to take care of police officers, firefighters and our veterans who make sacrifices to keep us safe and free. He is currently undertaking a project to re-build the patio at the Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Northport, Long Island.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) was the only local politician to show up at Donato’s fist Heros 4 Heroes Foundation event after 9/11; Panico said his first impression of Zeldin was he’s “special.”
The Republican congressman was deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne Division and is currently in the Army Reserves. In a sit-down interview with him, Donato and this reporter, he praised Donato as a selfless patriot while he engaged in the same type of organic camaraderie he has with fellow soldiers. Zeldin said Panico has the “type of character, values, ethics and beliefs” that guided his selfless actions on 9/11.
“If he was on the first floor of the Trade Center that day, he would have went straight up and started rendering first-aid to people even though he wasn’t NYPD or FDNY,” Congressman Zeldin said. “That’s his character.”
Recently, Panico had one particular person he wanted to lend “our” Old Glory that flew in front of the Millennium Hotel on September 11 to: The President of the United States.
Congressman Zeldin invited Panico to President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union Address in January. Panico brought the flag to Washington with him in hopes to give it to the President. That’s when Rep. Zeldin learned of the sentimental history of that American Flag. Donato did not get to meet Mr. Trump that day, but Mr. Zeldin held onto the flag for the right time, and on June 20, the Congressman received a phone call from The White House for a last minute policy meeting with President Trump and several representatives.
Zeldin recalled, “All I was thinking of was ‘where’s the flag?’”
After the meeting, Congressman Zeldin told President Trump about the flag.
“You could tell the story was impacting him, he was deeply moved by it, he was moved by Donato’s story, the first responders, the journey of that flag from the Trade Center, overseas being flown over a base to back home,” said Mr. Zeldin, adding that the President brought him into the Oval Office where he had an aide write down Panico’s story for a museum, and posed for a picture behind his Resolute Desk to send home to Donato.
Congressman Zeldin says when he meets with the President like he did when he rode in his motorcade with him to a GOP fundraiser in Southampton last month, President Trump asked about Donato.
Donato feels an unspoken bond with the current Commander-In-Chief, a man he has never met, but respects as a patriot, as he does his fellow New Yorkers and Americans who still suffer pain, sorrow, and illness from 9/11.
Panico still shakes when the calendar turns to September. He and we will Never Forget.
Stringer: City is Chronically Late in Issuing Contracts, Putting Human Services in Jeopardy
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Tuesday released a new report finding “pervasive” delays in the city’s contract system, particularly when it comes to human services.
The consequence, Stringer said, is that services for the homeless and other vulnerable New Yorkers are put in jeopardy.
Read Stringer's Report
“Thousands of nonprofits – many serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers – go unpaid for months, forced to deliver services without a registered contract. This is unacceptable,” Stringer told WCBS 880. “The very organizations that the most vulnerable New Yorkers depend on are being forced to take out huge loans, skip payroll, delaying repairs, just to deal with the shortfall in cash.”
Stringer’s report said 90.8 percent of human services contracts were submitted late for registration in Fiscal Year 2017 – half of them by six months or more. The report also said contract types across the board had extensive delays – with 81 percent of new and renewal contracts across all city agencies coming in late in FY 2017.
The report focused on Type 70 contracts, which support human services programs for seniors, children, the homeless, and other vulnerable populations. Stringer’s office found that some agencies – including the Human Resources Administration and the Department of Homeless Services – submitted all of their contracts late in 2017.
Vendors can only be paid once a contract is registered. They will be paid retroactively if a contract is late, but until the contract is submitted, the vendors are forced either to wait to begin work – which can stall projects and hike costs – or start work without the contract and take major risks, Stringer’s office said.
The stakes are particularly high for human services contractors, which execute such functions as delivering meals for seniors and providing shelter for homeless families, Stringer’s office said. The services are critical, and the contractors are often cash-strapped nonprofits with limited budgets, Stringer’s office said.
Stringer called for a series of reforms, including a contract tracking system.
“We need more transparency. We need to assign each city agency a role in contract oversight. We have to create a public tracking system to allow vendors to monitor the progress of their contracts,” he said. “It’s amazing that by the time it gets to my office, it could have been delayed for years.”
Stringer said if UPS can track packages, there is no reason that the city cannot track human services contracts.
“This is bureaucracy at its worst, and we have to smash the bureaucracy,” Stringer said, “and we’re never going to reduce homelessness if we cannot have a Department of Homeless Service agency that registers contracts on time and on budget.”
Speaking to WCBS 880 Producer Neil A. Carousso, Stringer added that his office has been in communication with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office for “many years” about the late contract issue. When asked if de Blasio has an action plan in place, Stringer said, “Well, we’ll find out now.”
The New Wave: The Challenge of Getting More Women Elected
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The number of women serving in Congress and other elected positions has grown dramatically over the years, but many say progress is taking too long.
In this week’s segment of The New Wave: Women in Politics, Peter Haskell looks at calls to get more women elected to office.
When Liz Holtzman was first elected to Congress in 1972, she was one of 16 women in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, there were none at all.
Thus, Congress was just 3 percent female.
But 45 years later, there are 107 women in Congress – 20 percent.
“We’re making progress, but too slow in my opinion, and with a lot of damage to the whole society,” Hotlzman said, “because we’re losing out on the talents of extraordinary women.”
Despite the record number of women candidates, Holtzman, 76, understands the process is incremental.
“You know, it may take another 20 years before we get halfway or more, but the fact is, ultimately, progress in this is just not stoppable. It’s going to happen,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s taking far too long. But there’s no way of stopping the progress that women make.”
Political science professor Brigid Harrison of Montclair State University thinks the timing is right.
“With the large number of retirements, what we see is that this will be an opportunity for many women to get that foot in the door, and become the incumbents that are so hard to beat,” Harrison said.
Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman said it is about more than just numbers. It is about governing.
“You need more women and you need more minorities at the decision-making table, because you need that different set of life experiences; a different way of approaching problems,” Whitman said. “You can’t, in today’s day and age, there’s no one group that has all the answers.”
Another issue is misconduct. Former New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned after being accused of dating abuse.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who ran for New York City mayor, said it matters.
“You know, there’s an attractiveness about a female candidate, and I think it’s because men seem to get themselves in trouble, you know, whether it’s sex scandals, whether it’s corruption,” Malliotakis said.
But more women running also means more women losing. Nearly 90 female candidates have already lost congressional primaries.
Neil A. Carousso produced WCBS Newsradio 880 reporter Peter Haskell’s multi-platform series titled “The New Wave: Women in Politics.” See the video piece of this installment here.
The New Wave: Stereotypes, Prejudices and Other Challenges for Women In Politics
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- With a record number of female candidates, there is talk of this being the year of the woman. But progress has been slow.
In this week's segment of The New Wave: Women In Politics, Peter Haskell looks at the challenges women have faced in getting elected.
"We live in a world, in a culture where sexism exists," said former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has seen the challenges firsthand.
Sometimes the bias is about looks, and other times it's about knowledge.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., remembers testifying about a big defense contractor in her district.
"I finished my testimony and Congressman Lewis from California he said to me, 'Congresswoman DeLauro, can you talk about the M1-A1 tank and the engine without looking at your notes?' and I turned to him and I said, 'Damn straight I can,'" she said.
“What do you make of that?" Haskell asked.
"It was just about women don't deal with the defense industy," DeLauro said.
She says there's a continuing double standard.
"Women have to work harder still today. A lot of my male colleagues can stand up, and say whatever they want. They can drool on the floor of the House of Representatives and it doesn't make any difference. Women have to know what they are talking about," DeLauro said.
Part of the problem has been the old boys network.
"Women are far less likely to get asked to run for office by party officials, elected officials, influential community leaders," said Jean Sinzdak, deputy director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman points to a problematic perception.
"Women will always be looked on as primary caregivers -- whether it's for children, spouses, significant others, parents it doesn't matter. And that has engendered this idea that somehow you can't do that and still be effective at your job, which is just simply not true," Whitman said.
Former New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said when she was running for the Monmouth County sheriff's office, she was asked, "How are you going to run a jail and run a law enforcement agency when you have three children?"
"They wouldn't ask a man that question. They would assume a man wouild be able to do it and have children," Guadagno said. "And my answer was: 'The same way you do. You have a family, you have a very supportive spouse, you have help and you raise your kids.'"
Liz Holtzman, a former congresswoman and former Brooklyn district attorney, said prejudices and stereotypes are still standing in the way of women.
"There are stereotypes out there that women can't do certain kinds of jobs, particularly executive jobs. Those stereotypes are very hard to eradicate," Holtzman said. "We made a lot of progress. When I was first elected and took office in 1973, there was no woman on the Supreme Court; there'd been no women of any prominence holding the top cabinet positions; women weren't heads of symphonies or univerisities. We've seen that change."
Although progress has been made, Holtzman said the country still has a long way to go.
"The basic attitude is still too pervasive that women can't do this job and women can do the job and women will do the job," she said. "I think there's a long way to go, and I'm very troubled and a bit disheartened by the lack of progress we've made in terms of changing people's attitudes about the role of women in society."
But Brigid Harrison, who teaches political science at Montclair State University, said she is seeing some improvements.
"Women, compared to say 20 or 30 years ago, have larger professional networks. They have more net worth and so they're better able to fund their campaigns. They're better able to have connections to fund their campaigns," Harrison said.
However, there are still plenty of obstacles. Harrison said one of the greatest challenges is how congressional districts are configured.
"Twenty years ago, it may have been possible to primary an incumbent member or it may have been possible to run in a competitve district and knock off an unpopular incumbent. Today, given the sophisticated way in which mapmakers create our congressional districts -- and that's done on the state level -- in about 90 percent of the seats, of Congress the winner is predetermined simply because of the partisan advantage in that district," Harrison said. "That's an incredible obstacle for women who are not incumbents to overcome."
Not to be ignored is the power of incumbency. House incumbents win 95 percent of the time. If women pick up seats this year, that could help generate momentum going forward.
Neil A. Carousso produced WCBS Newsradio 880 reporter Peter Haskell’s multi-platform series titled “The New Wave: Women in Politics.” See the video piece of this installment here.
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The midterm congressional primaries are kicking into full gear and there is a tidal wave of female candidates running for office this year.
Although filing deadlines have yet to pass in every state, the country is already seeing a record number of women running for Congress. Many women are also on the ground in gubernatorial races, as well as some state legislative and municipal elections.
"We're looking at close to double the number of women who ran in previous record years," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers. "When we look at the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and statewide elected offices we're at over 700 women who are running for office. We're really seeing a huge increase in the U.S. House."
Many believe the 2016 presidential election is responsible for inspiring women to run.
"So many people got engaged in that election whether they were pro-Trump or pro-Hillary and they got off the sidelines and started volunteering and talking about politics," said Mendham Township Committeewoman Amalia Duarte. "I think right now it's wonderful because women need to be represented, we need to be at the table otherwise we're on the menu, or so goes the quote. I'm hoping that women continue to be engaged, continue to run and continue to stay involved in politics because it's important. These are our lives."
Walsh credits President Donald Trump.
"I think a piece of it was the defeat of Hillary Clinton, I think a larger part of that though is the election of Donald Trump," Walsh said. "I think for a lot of women they thought that when the Access Hollywood tape came out that he couldn't possibly win, that it would be disqualifying for anyone to get elected president of the United States who openly talked about sexually assaulting women."
Montclair State University Political Science and Law Professor Brigid Harrison agrees.
"We can't deny the influence that President Trump's incendiary rhetoric has had," Harrison said. "It has really ticked some women off and really made them mobilized and compelled to do something on a very personal level."
But Walsh thinks it goes beyond sexism.
"I think it went also to the actual policies that women care about and feeling like some of the things that they were concerned about -- issues like health care and the environment -- were really in jeopardy and that they needed to have a voice of their own," Walsh said. "It was a real kind of clarion call about the fact that elections have real consquences and that women really felt that they had to find a way to have their own power, their own voice and to be able to exercise their power in the electoral system and I think all of that has led to women being more engaged."
Roughly three-quarters of the congressional female candidates are Democrats.
"There needs to be more done on the Republican side because political parity will not be achieved in this country on the back of one political party, both parties have to have a commitment to that," Walsh said.
But it's not just Democrats.
"On the Republican side, you are seeing some Republican women saying, 'You know what, this is not my party. This is not what I believe in. I'm not a Democrat but this does not represent how I see the future of my party and so I'm going to do something abnout it,'" Harrison said.
Republican Chele Chiavacci Farley, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, said she's been traveling the state and speaking to people told her they're appalled and disappointed at the general chaos they see in Washington.
"There's obstruction on both sides of the aisle and they've lost faith in their government leaders," Farley said.
Over the coming weeks, WCBS Newsradio 880 will examine the challenges women have faced, what it will take to achieve parity and how the political landscape is changing.
Neil A. Carousso produced WCBS Newsradio 880 reporter Peter Haskell’s multi-platform series titled “The New Wave: Women in Politics.” See the video piece of this first installment here.
Campaign Urges Veterans To Get Mental Health Care If They Need It
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a campaign to urge veterans to get help for if they need it.
The campaign is called “Mental Health Means a Stronger You.” It aims to reshape the perceptions and treatment by outlining the success stories of vets who have reached out for mental health support.
WCBS 880 Producer Neil A. Carousso talked about the campaign this week with Marine Corps veteran Moses Maddox – now veterans retention counselor at California State University San Marcos – and Dr. Wendy Tenhula, director of innovation and collaboration at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
It is part of the “Make a Connection” program, the VA’s ongoing national mental health outreach effort.
“While the conversation for mental health has gotten better, there’s still this stigma that, you know, either you’re weak or you’re crazy – a variety of things that people say when it comes to seeking, you know, mental health, that frankly just aren’t true, and that treatment is something that should be thought out, and that recovery can be achieved as long as you take your treatment seriously and as long as you actually go out there and seek that help,” Maddox said.
Maddox said some veterans might not seek out mental health care because of the stigma, some are concerned that it might limit their employment opportunities, and some don’t want to admit they need help because they feel like they can go through anything after having gone to war.
“And then they come home, and something as simple as a college class is extremely difficult because they’re cycling through things,” Maddox said. “So there’s a variety of reasons why people don’t go seek help, and this movement that we’re trying to do; this message is to say, ‘Hey, OK, people have been there before. We’ve gone through it. You’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up and get that help.”
Tenhula said the “Make a Connection” program was launched a few years ago “to raise awareness about mental health conditions and to inform veterans, as well as their family members and other loved ones, as well as their country at large, that mental health conditions are treatable.”
She said hundreds of veterans have come forward and talked about their own difficulties, the treatments they have received, and how those treatments have made a difference.
“There are effective treatments available, and that recovery is possible,” Tenhula said.
Maddox said there are many factors that go into an effective mental health care treatment program.
“One is having a really good counselor who is very honest about the process; who told me that some days are going to be better than others; that there’s going to be sessions where I might leave the session feeling worse than when I started, but it was all part of the process,” he said.
He added that the first step is just to get help and understand that doing so can be scary and stressful – particularly since a therapist will start out as a stranger to whom a veteran is assigned.
“But keep in mind that it is OK; that it is a process, and you have to stick with it. There’s going to be days where it’s incredibly difficult. There’s going to be times when it’s going to be hard to go out of bed, and there’s always an excuse; a reason not to go. You have to not listen to that,” Maddox said. “Once you take that first step, you have to follow through, and those stressors tend to go away once you get comfortable with the process; once you start to see little incremental changes.”
The VA has also expanded the methods veterans can use to access mental health care, Tenhula said
“We’ve expanded the use of telehealth for mental health conditions, so a veteran can be in one location, and their doctor or therapist can be in another location, and they can work together using video conferencing technology. VA also has a number of mental health-related mobile phone apps,” she said.
Maddox’s message for other veterans was that he has an idea of what they’re going through – and he said veterans like openness, honesty, and frankness.
“It’s natural. But you’re not weak for going to seek out mental health treatment, and in fact, saying that I do need help is a great sign of strength, and that’s what we really encourage,” Maddox said.
Prosecutor: Mexican Drug King, Alleged Underlings Brought Enough Fentanyl Into NYC To Kill Millions
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- A Mexican drug kingpin and five others were indicted Tuesday in an alleged drug smuggling conspiracy, which authorities said brought enough fentanyl into New York City to kill 10 million people.
In the indictment filed by the New York City Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, Francisco Quiroz-Zamora, 41 – also known as “Gordo” – was charged with operating as a major trafficker, conspiracy, and criminal sale of a controlled substance.
An indictment alleged Quiroz-Zamora, of the Sinaloa Cartel, was the Mexican-based source of a recent large shipments of fentanyl to New York City, and alleged that
A resident of San José del Cabo, Mexico, Quiroz-Zamora allegedly arranged for narcotics to be smuggled from Mexico to Arizona and California on trucks and cars and with drug couriers. He allegedly communicated directly with New York City drug customers, and arranged for members of his trafficking network to conduct drug deals, prosecutors said.
“Kingpin or major trafficker charges carry a life sentence, and that’s important because he had direct dealings from Mexico with a distribution network in New York City and with an undercover officer, and he was responsible for sending to New York City at least 50 pounds of fentanyl, which is charged in the indictment,” New York City Special Prosecutor Bridget Brennan told WCBS 880 Producer Neil A. Carousso. “And you know, fentanyl is so deadly. It’s viewed to be responsible for what will probably turn out to be a record-breaking number of overdose deaths here in New York City in 2017.”
Quiroz-Zamaroa was charged in connection with a bust that netted 44 pounds of fentanyl at the Umbrella Hotel in the Bronx on June 19 of last year, and on Central Park West on Aug. 4 of last year, prosecutors said.
He received about $22,500 from an undercover officer through a Western Union wire transfer, and came to New York City on Nov. 27 of last year to collect more money from the undercover officer, prosecutors said. But agents tracked Quiroz-Zamora’s movements as he took a circuitous route from Texas to Connecticut by plane, down to Delaware, and then to New York on an Amtrak train, prosecutors said.
Quiroz-Zamora was arrested at Penn Station on Nov. 27 and was originally charged in a complaint in Manhattan Criminal Court. He has been in custody since Nov. 29.
Prosecutors said they also busted a stash house on Central Park West at 105th Street, which was receiving the drugs that were being supplied by the defendants.
“What we found there was it was basically a packaging location; that the people inside that location were packaging many, many thousands of little glassines that were being filled with fentanyl or heroin, and some kind of other substance, and then ultimately, the stuff was headed for street distribution, and that was in a lovely Central Park West apartment with many other people living inside, and when you think about it, it’s a very dangerous situation,” Brennan said.
Five other defendants were also charged in the indictment. Prosecutors alleged that Carlos Ramirez, 27, of Colorado, was caught in a bust with an undercover officer; Jesus Perez-Cabral, 20, maintained the Central Park West drug stash along with Johnny Beltrez, 33; David Rodriguez, 32, was seen carrying suspected narcotics into a car outside the Central Park West building; and Richard Rodriguez, 43, was an Uber driver who drove off with the drugs.
Brennan emphasized that her office is cracking down on fentanyl, with overdoses having reached an all-time high of 1,400 deaths in 2017. Seizures also spiked by a factor of more than 12, from 35 pounds in 2016 to 491 in 2017.
Brennan explained that fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin, and is also cheaper to wholesalers – making dealing in it an attractive proposition for drug traffickers.
"Because it’s a synthetic drug, it’s probably a tenth of the cost of heroin. And so, what we are seeing is that the cartel is sending to the U.S. fentanyl in place of heroin sometimes, or it’s sending up a load that mixes fentanyl with heroin. Heroin being much more expensive, the fentanyl allows them to make a whole lot more money, since when the buyers are buying the little packages in the street, they don’t know whether it contains fentanyl or heroin – it could be either – but they’re going to be paying the same price regardless,” Brennan said. “So it really enhances their ability to make a buck.”
Brennan emphasized that millions could have been killed with the amount of fentanyl the drug traffickers brought to the city.
“Millions, I mean, if they were people who were not tolerant of opioids; who hadn’t been using for some time, it would kill many, many people, because the amount of fentanyl which would kill someone who is not accustomed to any kind of opioid really would fit on the tip of your little finger, so think about it – we seized 400-plus pounds; nearly 500 pounds,” she said. “Think of how much damage that would do.”
Brennan added that her office will be going after everyone in the chain of distribution of such dangerous drugs, but will not stop until finding and prosecuting the top suppliers. She emphasized how dangerous – and how disturbingly commonplace – fentanyl has become.
“Fentanyl is now being mixed in with cocaine. It’s being pressed into counterfeit pills. And so anything on our city’s black market could be tainted with this stuff, and it could kill you. So people have to be very, very careful,” she said. “I think prevention messages are very important. I think people need to become educated and recognize that this stuff can’t be played with.”
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