The Hippo


Jul 5, 2020








Crack, guns and cash seized on Orange Street in Manchester. Photo courtesy of the Manchester Police Department.

Heroin or crack?

Police say heroin (a former Bayer brand name for diacetylmorphine) and other opioids like oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl are powerful depressants that slow the body down and produce extreme euphoria by triggering the pleasure centers of the brain. Heroin and fentanyl are often available in powder form, melted and then injected with a syringe. They can also be snorted through the nose. Overdose occurs when individuals have taken enough of the drug to essentially stop their own involuntary breathing. 
A finger of heroin (10 grams) sells for $350 in New Hampshire, according to police. Users can buy a portion for as low as $2. A single “hit” of heroin is about .2 grams on average.
The Drug Enforcement Administration lists heroin as a Schedule I drug (the most dangerous drugs), while fentanyl and oxycodone are Schedule II drugs.
Conversely, cocaine and crack are both euphoria-inducing stimulants. Cocaine in powder form is snorted while crack, a rocky chemical base of cocaine, is smoked in a straight glass pipe. The high from crack is more intense but shorter-lived, making it potentially more addictive. Individuals rarely overdose on cocaine, unless the stimulant triggers a cardiac arrest.
A rock of crack (usually about .3 grams) sells for about $30-$80 in New Hampshire, according to the DEA. A gram of powder cocaine sells for about $70-$100. 
The DEA lists cocaine as a Schedule II drug.
Penalties for possessing either heroin or cocaine (both Class B felonies) include 3.5 to 7 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine for a first offense. If you’re convicted a second time for possession, it becomes a Class A felony with 7.5 to 15 years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine. 
The penalties for sale and distribution of these drugs is far higher, with a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Gun Trafficking
The National Crime Information Center database is for guns that were lost, stolen, recovered or used in the commission of a crime. Of the 6,150 New Hampshire guns registered in the NCIC, 252 have been reported stolen so far in 2015. According to New Hampshire State Police, 373 guns were stolen in 2014. 
Police say stolen guns are a valuable commodity to take in trade when selling drugs. 
Defigueiredo says guns are useful to gangs in particular.
“A criminal street gang, for example, they may buy half a kilo of cocaine and they’ll spread it between their guys just to make a profit. … At the same time, they may steal guns. They may sell them or use them for their protection,” Defigueiredo said.
Plus, getting guns in New Hampshire is far easier than it is in New York or Massachusetts.
“The laws [in New Hampshire] are not like they are in Massachusetts. … They’re more lax,” Defigueiredo said.
This has driven up the black market resale value in the states where guns are harder to come by. 
Police say a gun obtained in New Hampshire can sell for three or four times the original price in Massachusetts or New York. And that interstate trafficking may be increasing.
“I have seen more cases where you see gang members from larger cities going to smaller cities or even towns to exchange drugs for firearms and usually stolen firearms. We’ve seen that in a few different cases,” said crime analyst Matthew Barter, referring to cases in the Northeast.
Barter points to a recent case when police and federal agents cracked down on a violent street gang based in New Haven, Connecticut called the Red Side Guerilla Brims. 
Authorities say the RSGB had traded narcotics for firearms in Maine and distributed the guns to its members in New Haven.
Gang Landscape
The cities of Manchester and Nashua are no strangers to gangs. Even Concord and Rochester have been known to have gang activity, according to the FBI. But the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, which has helped fight gang-related crime since 2008, is only mandated to operate in Hillsborough County, where most of the gangs are concentrated.
“There certainly is the presence of gangs and gang activity throughout the state of New Hampshire. It is not the same as you would find in cities like New York, L.A., Chicago, Detroit,” O’Donnell said.
The FBI breaks down street gangs into a few categories like “neighborhood” street gangs, “national” street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs. Neighborhood gangs are small, usually self-started and sometimes claim affiliation with national gangs (whether a legitimate connection exists or not). 
O’Donnell says national street gangs known to be in Manchester include the Latin Kings and the Brotherhood of White Warriors. In Nashua, they see Folk Nation and Gangster Disciples. While some of these have national ties, O’Donnell says they aren’t directed by outside leadership.
“Neighborhood-based gangs are the bigger issue here in New Hampshire, versus the influence of the national-based gangs,” O’Donnell said.
Those neighborhood gangs include the homegrown crews that have been in the news lately, such as OTL and 180. Some have coined these “cul-du-sac gangs.” 
The two rival gangs have been the cause of gun violence and group melees over the past couple years. OTL stands for Orange to Laurel streets, while 180 is a reference to the group’s gathering spot at 180 Main Street, the football field across from West High School. 
Officer Matthew Barter, a Manchester police crime analyst, says that while their gang names refer to places, the gangs don’t have specific territory and members homes are scattered throughout the city.
But overall gang presence does appear to be growing. O’Donnell says this is partly driven by the prison system because many gang members join the gang while in prison for protection.
Even the county jails are seeing growth in gang presence. Brian Martineau, the deputy chief of security at Hillsborough County Jail, says he’s seen Gangster Disciples, Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, BOWW, Trinitarios and others. 
“Over the last year or so we’ve noticed an increase in the number of gangs in here,” Martineau said.
He says that of the 463 currently incarcerated in his jail, 68 have been identified as gang members. That’s about 15 percent.
At the state level, a little less than 5 percent of the more than 2,100 prison inmates have been identified as active gang members representing 16 different groups. Many of the gang members on the street are from out of state, according to Defigueiredo.
“In New England … we get it from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,” Defigueiredo said. “It’s growing by the day.”
While New Hampshire might still be in the so-called green zone, Harpster sees a day in the future when the drug epidemic and the influx of gang members will lead to more violent crime.
“I think that’s possible, absolutely. With the amount of poverty, lack of stability in downtown Manchester in these areas and the amount of drugs in the city, I think it could spike [in] violence from gang-related members or non-gang-related members,” Harpster said.
He notes most drug dealers, even those not part of a street gang, have guns to protect themselves and their drug supply.

Drug Dealers' Paradise
Why dealers travel from Mass., NY and beyond to sell in NH

By Ryan Lessard

The sun has gone down in the Queen City, and the smell of cigarette smoke and the cries of small children fill the hallways of a Lake Avenue apartment building. Walls are scuffed, dirty and, in some places, vandalized with holes or writing. Stairways are poorly lit, and scraps of garbage litter the corners. Smeared on a wall at the top floor is what appears to be feces. Officer Steve Duquette says bed bugs are a problem here.

This building is one of a half-dozen places in Manchester that Duquette points to as regular trouble spots. Some even have gang ties. 
On Sept. 3, 144 Lake Ave. — the building we’re walking through on this late-October evening — was one of three addresses raided by police, who arrested nine men and charged them with dealing drugs. Police seized about $15,000 worth of drugs. 
Also raided that day was 452 Pine St., the inside of which is in similar shape to the Lake Avenue building.
“That place is an absolute hellhole,” Duquette said. “452 Pine has a ton of drugs. Like, a ridiculous amount of drugs.”
Duquette drives on to 137 Orange St., the site of a separate drug bust in June.
“This area over here, there’s always been issues,” Duquette said. “I’ve been here for domestics, drunks, unwanted people, kids, people smelling weed. A lot of times, no one even answers the doors when you knock on them.”
The thing this apartment building has in common with the building on Pine Street? Police say the men arrested are from the Bronx and were all charged with allegedly selling crack cocaine. 
Police have made even more arrests recently,  of men who have ties to the group arrested at Orange Street, and police say they are affiliated with street gangs in the Bronx. 
Brett Harpster, an attorney for Hillsborough County, is prosecuting the case.
“Things are getting much, much worse in Manchester. It continues to get worse, sadly, and I’m continually at a loss as to why, in such a small, little city.” Harpster said.
Why New Hampshire?
New Hampshire has long been seen as an alluring market to drug dealers based in Massachusetts. They see the state as a relatively safe place to distribute narcotics, with less competition and higher profit margins. 
The high demand, relatively higher retail prices and less risk of violent competition make New Hampshire a veritable paradise for drug dealers from out-of-state areas already saturated with street gangs and drug sales.
Law enforcement officials in the Manchester Police Department, the FBI and the DEA say the bulk of the drugs entering the state have come through Lawrence, Mass., where “Drug Trafficking Organizations,” or DTOs, have driven the influx of opioids and other drugs northward to cities like Nashua and Manchester. 
Now, it seems, dealers from as far as New York have taken notice of the lucrative opportunity the Granite State presents. Not only can they obtain the drug supply at a lower wholesale price in New York — essentially cutting out the middle-man in Lawrence — they can also trade drugs for guns, a commodity that can be either used by gangs or resold in New York or Massachusetts for three or four times the New Hampshire price, according to Manchester police. And, at least in one case, police allege that’s exactly what these New York gang members have done.
Gangs have had a presence in Manchester, Nashua and other cities in New Hampshire for years. But gangs from New York establishing a route to the Granite State to sell crack and, wherever possible, obtain guns, is a new development, according to FBI resident agent in charge Scott O’Donnell.
“This is a fairly new scheme that we saw,” O’Donnell said. “We know that it was an opportunity for some individuals to come up, sell drugs and get some guns. That is not something that we’ve seen since I’ve been here over the last two years [or that] my predecessor saw before me over his three-year stint, either. So that is something new.” 
from the Bronx
Police have made several recent arrests of drug dealers selling crack cocaine believed to be from New York. Some are alleged to have gang ties.
• On June 10, at 3:30 a.m., the Manchester police SWAT team descended upon 137 Orange St.’s apartment 5. They arrested Danzelle Robinson, Gregory Reynoso and Majestis Adams, each in their early 20s, for selling crack cocaine. At the apartment, police say they found four handguns, 48 grams of crack and more than $5,000 in cash. Police believe the men had occasionally exchanged the drugs for stolen guns, though they have not said what evidence they have to support that.
• Nearly three months after they were arrested, the raids on Sept. 3 took place. One of the nine people arrested that afternoon was a man from the Bronx named Khamin Todd. He was found at the Pine Street apartment building. Police say they found the bulk of the drugs seized that night (76 grams of crack cocaine) in his unit and charged Todd with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.
• On the night of Sept. 28, just before eight o’clock, police pulled over a vehicle near the Manchester Wal-Mart based on information they received that the occupants of the car were selling crack. They arrested Rayshawn Wallace and Michael Irving, whom police said were both from the Bronx. A cavity search by police found Wallace was allegedly hiding nearly 10 grams of crack (in 29 separate baggies) in his buttocks, while Irving was allegedly hiding nearly 30 grams (in 79 baggies) in his buttocks.
Police have confirmed that the three men from the June raid and the two men arrested on Sept. 28 were part of the same Bronx-based gang, and records show they all operated out of the same Orange Street address.
According to court documents, police worked with a confidential informant, referred to in the affidavit as “IT,” to buy $200 worth of crack from the men with marked bills.
IT told his police handler that he’d known two of the men, Reynoso and Robinson, for about two months. Robinson went by the nickname “Digs,” while Reynoso was known as “Dirk.” According to IT, Adams, who went by “Fatboy,” was a new addition to the group. He had arrived on June 4, just a week before his arrest. 
Robinson, or Digs, allegedly took the marked bills from IT and distributed it among the others. He then allegedly supplied IT with two baggies of crack while the other two men each supplied one baggie.
The four baggies later weighed in at 1.3 grams.
All three have been indicted on drug and gun charges in Hillsborough County Superior Court. Robinson is out on bail while Adams and Reynoso remain incarcerated at Hillsborough County Jail. Adams’ trial is scheduled for January 2016 while Reynoso and Robinson have dispositional hearings scheduled for Nov. 10. 
According to court documents related to Wallace’s case, MPD’s narcotics unit was already investigating Wallace, who went by the alias “Reggae.” Nearly three weeks before his arrest, police had arranged for IT to buy a quantity of crack from Wallace. Police say that purchase took place at 137 Orange St., the same address where Robinson, Reynoso and Adams had been arrested. IT told police he had known Wallace for months.
“We’re talking [about] just a couple instances where kids who were identified as New York gang members were arrested,” said Captain Mark Sanclemente, the head of Manchester’s Special Enforcement Division. 
He downplays the phenomenon, saying the biggest issue is still opioids from Lawrence.
“It’s very minute in comparison to everything else that’s going on. It’s not really as big of an issue,” Sanclemente said.
As for Todd, police say he’s not connected to the other five men.
He had been a fugitive from New York on charges of second degree assault. Todd has a long criminal record, with several stints in New York state prisons since 2006 for selling and possessing crack, attempted assaults and an assault that NYDOC says involved slashing someone’s face. He’s currently incarcerated in Hillsborough County and is facing three drug-related felonies.
Repeated calls and emails to NYPD’s public information office were not returned.
Sanclemente said these men saw an opportunity to make money in New Hampshire. 
Scott O’Donnell with the FBI echoes that, saying that while these men are gang members, their movement into the state is not an indication of some top-down directive by the gang at-large.
Which gang they represent remains a topic police are hesitant to discuss. 
Julio Defigueiredo, the vice president of the East Coast Gang Investigators Association, says the Bloods are the most prominent street gang in the Bronx. 
“Everybody in New York knows who these people are when they come out of prison. What gangs they’re affiliated with. So, technically, you can’t do your business in the street because you’re gonna have a target on you,” Defigueiredo said. “So what do they do? They drive north.”
While Concord police report no presence of crack cocaine or drug dealers from New York, Lt. Kevin Rourke, the head of Nashua police’s narcotics unit, says there was a recent case of two men allegedly selling crack.
On Oct. 1, Andre Mckinney and Nasah Johnson were arrested in Nashua during a motor vehicle stop. Police said they found 50 grams of crack, 20 grams of MDMA, or ecstasy, and a .45 caliber handgun. Narcotics detectives believe they were operating in both Nashua and Manchester for at least two months prior to their arrest. Rourke says the crack was believed to be sourced from New York, however, the addresses supplied by the suspects were for New Jersey and Pennsylvania, respectively. Nashua police don’t know of any connection in the case either with street gangs or with the Bronx crew arrested in Manchester.
Criminal calculus
Sergeant Chris Sanders, the head of Manchester’s Street Crime Unit, says dealers are motivated by profit and direct access to a large supply is easy.
“Drug dealing is an open market,” Sanders said. “Anybody can get into it.”
Basic math helps explain why these gang members are coming up here. IT told Manchester police that the Bronx crew was selling crack for $50 to $100. Looking at the purchases IT made, described by police in affidavits, it appears individual baggies contained about .3 grams that sold for $50 individually. Such was apparently the case when IT spent $200 to get four baggies. Later, when IT spent $100 to allegedly buy crack from Wallace, IT obtained enough baggies to total .9 grams — so there were likely three baggies of .3 grams each (a “rock” of crack is usually between .1 and .5 grams). This might suggest either that the price had gone down between June and September, or the dealers started a buy-two-get-one-free deal. 
Either way, the drug dealers are likely making a profit and their profit margin will largely be determined by where they source their drugs. While Sanclemente doesn’t know for sure, he believes the guys from the Bronx were getting the crack in New York.
“[The drugs are] probably from New York. Probably sourced out of New York and it’s coming up here,” Sanclemente said.
If that’s true, it would have given these guys an economic edge over drug traffickers getting their supply from Lawrence. According to Timothy Desmond at the Drug Enforcement Agency, a kilogram of cocaine sells for $32,000 wholesale in New York. That’s compared to about $40,000 in Lawrence.
Even if the guys from the Bronx bought their drug supply from the retail market, it would be profitable. The DEA says a rock can retail for $5 to $50 in New York, depending on a number of factors. In Lawrence, a rock would sell for $20 to $80, prices only slightly higher than what’s seen in New Hampshire. The prices in New Hampshire are $30 to $80, so trafficking crack from Massachusetts to New Hampshire would have little to no chance for profit.
Given those margins, the alleged sale of all the crack seized from the guys from the Bronx plus the two guys arrested in Nashua (214 grams — enough to barely fill a cereal bowl) would’ve probably netted about $28,400 to $31,700, more than the median annual salary of a worker in the U.S.
Pipelines and crack pipes
So what makes the prices in New Hampshire so much higher?
“When we get up to New Hampshire, this is an end distribution and use point,” Scott O’Donnell with the FBI said.
In this sense, the pipeline for illicit narcotics is not dissimilar to the home heating oil distribution network. New Hampshire’s heating oil cost ranks the fourth most expensive in the country at $79.64 per month, according to the New Hampshire Business Review. This is caused by a combination of high demand and the cost of distribution. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that in 2013, nearly half of New Hampshire households relied on heating oil. That’s compared to only about 6 percent nationally. New Hampshire does not produce any of the fossil fuels it burns for energy or heat, so by the time the oil has traveled across multiple state lines, the price has risen tremendously.
The DEA says cocaine and heroin in the Northeast come predominantly from Mexico. They’re driven up through the Southwestern border and travel across the interstate highway system before ending up in large cities like New York. From New York, the drugs make their way to the North Shore of Massachusetts, where cities like Lawrence act as another hub for drug distribution.
Police say that the retail price of heroin in New Hampshire is about twice what it costs to buy in Lawrence, so even if suppliers aren’t buying wholesale, there’s a reliable return on investment from just driving 30 miles north of Lawrence. 
Fracking fentanyl
Much like natural gas, the price of heroin is dropping rapidly. In just two years, the price has more than halved. 
A “finger” of heroin, which looks like a roll of coins and contains 10 grams, now sells for between $350 to $500 in Manchester, according to police and county prosecutor Brett Harpster. The retail price in Lawrence is as low as $180 for a finger, according to police.
Two years ago a finger sold for up to $1,000 in Manchester, $400 in Lawrence. 
All too often, the heroin has been “cut” with an even more powerful opioid called fentanyl and this has made shooting up the drug far more deadly. The state medical examiner says the plurality of drug-related deaths (of which there were 321 statewide) involved fentanyl — about 44 percent — in 2014. So far this year, there have been more than 540 opioid overdoses in Manchester alone, according to the Manchester Fire Department. About 400 of those required emergency responders to administer the life-saving anti-overdose drug Narcan. But Manchester has already seen 65 deaths. Last year, the city saw 48 overdose deaths. Police say there were 304 overdose calls for service between Jan. 1 and Oct. 29, 2014, and they’ve already exceeded that number this year by more than 200.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug that authorities say is cheaper for cartels to manufacture than it is to produce heroin, which requires vast poppy farms in Colombia and Afghanistan. They believe drug traffickers are introducing fentanyl to spread the heroin supply further without reducing its potency. In many cases, though, it has proven too potent even for veteran heroin addicts. The drug is also being sold alone, and buyers often mistake it for heroin.
Green Zone
Despite all the drugs that have entered the state lately,  New Hampshire is still a market in which demand outpaces supply.
“If you can set up shop somewhere that nobody knows you and there’s demand, then you do it,” gang expert Julio Defigueiredo said. “Any business, any drug dealer will do the same thing.”
Defigueiredo is a sergeant in the Bristol County Sheriff's Department in Massachusetts and a special gang investigator for the past 13 years. He says not only does high demand exist in New Hampshire, but it’s unincorporated territory for gang members acting as drug dealers. Unlike Lawrence, Boston or New York, nobody has carved out defined territory to monopolize the drug sales there.
“From New Hampshire north is ‘green’ territory. There’s plenty of business for all these people,” Defigueiredo said. 
O’Donnell says gangs in New Hampshire are not carving out turf. Instead, they mostly operate as drug traffickers here, whereas in their home city, they may be involved in nightclubs and prostitution as well.
This is why, despite maintaining their gang identity so often defined by rivalry with other gangs and the violence that ensues between them, police say none of the shootings or violence taking place in the city has been linked back to these New York gangs so far. 
“They’ll fight the territory in New York, but up here it’s just a business. You do your thing, I do my thing, don’t bother me,” Defigueiredo said.
Crack comeback
Opioids remain Manchester’s foremost problem. The same is true in Nashua and Concord. But police say they’ve seen a lot more crack on the streets of Manchester this past year. 
Sanclemente thinks the dealers selling crack are taking advantage of the epidemic by hiding under the massive shadow of heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone.
Harpster sees it too. 
“Definitely, crack cocaine is coming back,” Harpster said.
Sanclemente and his counterpart in Nashua, Kevin Rourke, both say police have their hands full with heroin. That’s where most of their focus is, but, they say, that doesn’t mean they’re turning a blind eye to other drugs like crack. 
So far this year, Manchester police have seized 324 grams of crack. Slightly more than half of that allegedly came from the six men from the Bronx. In 2014, police had seized 94 grams and 46 grams the year before that. The last time the numbers were this high was 2008.
Crack had been a popular drug in the city in the 1990s, but it had taken a back seat as more residents got hooked on prescription opioids and heroin.
Sanclemente speculates that the dealers of crack might perceive a market for a less deadly narcotic, since heroin has been confused for or laced with the more-potent fentanyl in hundreds of overdose cases.
Granite Hammer
Arrest efforts have ramped up in recent months. Earlier this year, Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard, Director of the New Hampshire State Police Colonel Robert Quinn and Assistant Special Agent of the DEA Jon DeLena got together to figure out how to bring the fight to the drug dealers. What they came up with was a pooling of agency resources for a system of rapid investigations and quick arrests called Operation Granite Hammer. 
Manchester police had begun a series of “sweep” operations under past Chief David Mara in 2014. They were the product of months-long investigations where warrants were obtained and alleged low-level drug dealers were rounded up, sometimes 30 at a time. They had catchy names like “Operation Fall Cleanup,” and “Operation Clean Sweep.” But Captain Sanclemente says Granite Hammer is a different animal.
“This is a little bit more involved,” Sanclemente said.
Instead of taking months to collect evidence and warrants, city and state police along with federal agents are acting on tips they learn at morning briefings, go out to investigate the suspects and arrest them as quickly as possible. And while they continue to target the low-level dealers, they’ve widened the net to include more mid-level sellers.
Granite Hammer operations began with a dragnet of 14 alleged dealers on Sept. 24 and followed up with roundups of 16 individuals on Oct. 1, seven individuals on Oct. 8 and four more on Oct. 20. That’s 41 arrests in less than 30 days.
Narcotics officers are working “non-stop” and police hope this new partnership, which has no expiration date, will make it more difficult for dealers to do business in the Queen City.
Now, the state wants to replicate Manchester’s successes statewide as part of a laundry list of bills getting drafted in the legislature with bipartisan support. Another bill with broad support would increase the penalties for selling fentanyl to be more in line with the penalties for selling heroin. Efforts to prevent addiction focus on changing rules for prescribing opioids.
Meanwhile, in August, the White House announced $13.4 million in funding for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, $5 million of which will target heroin specifically. New England HIDTA has partnered with local police for most of the major drug dealer sweeps. 
And it seems greater emphasis is being placed on treatment, prevention and recovery as $2.5 million is going toward the White House’s new Heroin Response Strategy, which will create partnerships between public safety officials and public health officials.
Recently in Manchester, local developers and business leaders announced they joined forces with the non-profit HOPE for NH Recovery to buy the old Hoitt’s Furniture building on Wilson Street. The recovery center would be located on the first floor and they plan to have a treatment provider like Serenity Place move into other parts of the building. 
Police in New Hampshire have long said the state can’t arrest its way out of the drug epidemic. In economic terms, police can only focus on limiting supply. Observers say it’s up to the healthcare infrastructure to stem the demand. While treatment options remain limited, the state is moving to fund drug courts with a new bill that would set aside $2.5 million. 

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