District Attorney P. David Soares announced yesterday (Sept. 30) that Manuel Luna, 51, of Queens, was found guilty after a jury trial of three major drug trafficking charges for transporting more than two pounds of a particularly dangerous form of heroin. When he is sentenced on Nov. 18, Luna faces life in prison.
“This verdict sends a message to traffickers that law enforcement will not relent in our pursuit to bring them to justice,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge James Hunt. “This organization’s circuitous drug smuggling route from Mexico to Florida to New York was used to evade police. However, evident in today’s guilty verdict, Manuel Luna along with his co-conspirators were not able to dodge DEA and our law enforcement partners’ investigative efforts.”
According to trial evidence—which included testimony of over 40 witnesses—and documents filed in the case, an anonymous tip to law enforcement in July 2013 led to a traffic stop of a vehicle traveling northbound on the NYS Thruway in the Town of Bethlehem. A secret compartment inside of the vehicle contained approximately 1 kilogram (approx. 2.205 lbs) of heroin laced with fentanyl, an opioid 80 times stronger than morphine. (Fentanyl is the drug that was determined to be the cause of pop icon Prince’s fatal overdose.) The 2013 traffic stop sparked a long-term investigation that uncovered a multi-jurisdiction narcotics trafficking operation spanning from the supplier in Mexico, to West Palm Beach, Florida, up through New York City in the boroughs of the Bronx and Brooklyn, up the NYS Thruway through Albany County, and ultimately ending in Buffalo, NY for sale and distribution of the drugs. The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and uncovered eight co-defendants that were ultimately charged in this multi-million dollar narcotics distribution ring.
Between April and July of 2013, said the DA’s office, Manuel Luna knowingly possessed very large quantities of uncut cocaine and heroin in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the Town of Bethlehem, with the intent to sell them. He conspired with co-defendants to possess, sell, and profit from large quantities of heroin and cocaine through this pipeline, driving stolen cars that contained secret compartments or gas tanks full of narcotics and money. The trafficked narcotics were valued at several million dollars.
Ultimately, Luna was convicted on one count of operating as a major drug trafficker and one count of first degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, both class A-1 felonies, as well as one count of conspiracy in the second degree a class B felony before Judge Richard Mott in Albany county court yesterday afternoon.
Co-defendants in the case include:
Jose Beltran, 37, of Bronx, NY, who previously pleaded guilty to one count of criminal Possession of a controlled substance in the first degree and will be sentenced to up to 20 years in state prison at a later date.
Geraldo Torres, 44, of Buffalo, Igor Guerrero, 41, of NYC, Mayobanex Rodriguez, 43, of West Palm Beach, FL, Emmanuel Mateo, 37, of the Bronx, and Edwin Rivera, 30, of Buffalo, each separately pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the second degree and face up to 25 years in state prison when sentenced.
DA Soares commended the Drug Enforcement Administration New York Group D-35 for their work investigating and prosecuting the case.