Friday, September 07, 2007

Mayor Barletta Scores Big

Hazelton's Mayor Lou Barletta has been tireless in his effort to rid his city of trash. Wednesday was garbage collection day. Big time.

Operation Boomerang

Drug raids round up 15 to 20

More arrests expected in local, county, state crackdown in the Hazleton area. At least two arraigned are illegal immigrants, official says.

By Steve Mocarsky
Staff Writer

Louis ‘Jose’ Gonzalez leaves his arraignment Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Army National Guard armory in Hazleton. (Steve Mocarsky/The Times Leader)

* Hazleton Drug Bust

Operation Boomerang – a six-month investigation into a major cocaine ring in the Hazleton area – culminated Wednesday with about 100 law enforcement officers converging on homes throughout the city and surrounding municipalities in a series of drug raids.

Frank Noonan, regional director of the state Attorney General’s Office in Wilkes-Barre, said some significant, high-level dealers are among the 15 to 20 suspects arrested as of Wednesday afternoon. He said more arrests were expected today.

Hazleton city police conducted the raids in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office and the Luzerne County Drug Task Force, with assistance from the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Office, state police in Hazleton and police from several surrounding municipalities.

District Judges Joseph Zola of Hazleton and Daniel O’Donnell of Sugarloaf Township began arraigning suspects around noon at the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Armory on Samuels Avenue in Hazleton. The armory was used because of the large number of suspects arrested.

Some of the streets mentioned during arraignments in connection with the raids include Church, Green, Birch, Carson and Garfield streets in Hazleton and West Green Street and Ridge Avenue in West Hazleton.

One significant arrest was that of Jorge Rivera, of Ridge Avenue in West Hazleton. Some of the charges filed against him include corrupt organizations, conspiracy to deliver cocaine and criminal use of a communication facility.

While Zola and O’Donnell were setting bail amounts ranging between $50,000 and $100,000, Deputy Attorney General Bob O’Hara asked Zola to set Rivera’s bail higher.

O’Hara said that by using wire taps, investigators learned that Rivera had “hundreds if not thousands of drug-related conversations” and had access to “large amounts of cash.”

Zola increased Rivera’s bail from $100,000 to $500,000.

He also increased the bail amount of Louis “Jose” Gonzalez at O’Hara’s request.

Gonzalez was arrested at 308 W. Green St. early Wednesday morning.

O’Hara said Gonzalez had significantly more felony charges against him than any of the other suspects, including 15 counts of delivery of a controlled substance. He said Gonzalez has also used several aliases and has an FBI file dating back to 1984 with arrests in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on auto theft charges, and in New York City on marijuana sale charges.

The judges set the suspects’ preliminary hearings for Sept. 11 and Sept. 13. A Spanish interpreter translated for many of the suspects.

Zola said at least two of the people he arraigned were illegal immigrants. Arraignments ended at the armory at about 4 p.m.

Noonan said that because officers were sill looking for additional suspects Wednesday afternoon, he wasn’t prepared to release the names of those arrested thus far.

He said the Attorney General’s Office will have a press conference at 3 p.m. today at Hazleton City Hall to provide further details on the investigation and those arrested.

Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta called Operation Boomerang “a major bust that will have a significant effect on the city and the area.”

“I am so proud of this (police) department and their commitment and dedication to cleaning up this city, and also the Attorney General’s Office, the county (district attorney) and all the other departments that assisted in this major operation,” Barletta said.

“I’ve learned in my seven and a half years as mayor that some days are better than others. Today was a good day.”

“This was a very detailed organization that was supplying the demand here in the Hazleton area. Today, this organization is out of business and the steady supply of cocaine coming into Hazleton has been shut off,” Corbett said.

Corbett thanked the Hazleton and Butler Township police departments and the Luzerne County Drug Task Force for their assistance in the investigation.

Mayor Lou Barletta thanked Corbett for providing the manpower and money to conduct the investigation, and all the officers involved, especially the city’s Narcotics Division detectives.

“Today is your reward. You may never know the lives that you have saved by taking very dangerous people off the street,” Barletta said.

“To our citizens, our streets are safer today than they were yesterday, but know that our work is not done,” he said.

“And to any drug dealers, drug users, illegal aliens or gang members who were lucky enough not to get caught this time, you need to ask yourself a question: Who’s next? Maybe it’s you,” Barletta said.