WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Law enforcement officials busted a notorious open-air drug market Wednesday, charging more than a dozen suspects with selling prescription pills in a residential area of Washington Heights and Boston, police said.
The 14 men are suspected of hawking painkillers "through open-air, hand-to-hand, and car sales" along Broadway, between 156th and 157th streets, according to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
"The suspects operated like a gang of street-corner pharmacists, selling illegal prescription pills hand-to-hand," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Investigators with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the NYPD confiscated 9,000 oxycodone and oxymorphone pills, plus $25,000 in cash, during busts at five locations in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, prosecutors said. Cops also retrieved hundreds of bottles of HIV medication, according to officials.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.
"These 14 defendants operated what was essentially an open-air drug mall and drive-thru on the streets of Upper Manhattan distributing tens of thousands of illegally diverted prescription pills in plain sight," Bharara said.
Police have been targeting the drug activity since February 2011 when the former commanding officer of the 33rd Precinct announced the NYPD would boost its fight against the illegal sale of prescription drugs, DNAinfo.com New York first reported.
Still, neighbors and police sources in the 33rd Precinct said the drug trade continues to thrive.
The arrests came as a relief for some people who live nearby, but many residents said they were not certain it would do much to quell the rising tide of drug sales in the neighborhood.
"This is nothing new," said Washington Heights resident Bernice Flores, 53. "They're like cockroaches. You might see one, but there are hundreds hiding around."