DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — More than two dozen people — including an aspiring drug counselor and a courthouse clerk — were indicted Thursday as part of a $1.5 million-per-year heroin dealing business run by a family out of their South Williamsburg apartment, authorities said.
The ringleader along with his relatives and cohorts sold as many as 25,000 bags of heroin every month at $10 per bag, with stashes frequently hidden in bright green Apple Jacks cereal boxes, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office said.
In some cases, the heroin was so strong that it led to users' throats closing up and caused them to break out in hives, a reaction that at least one of the dealers found hilarious.
Josie "Fresh" Tavera, 25, was charged for heading up the ring out of his apartment at 778 Driggs Ave., an operation supported by his brother, sister, cousins and mother, the DA's office said.
Drugs sales started at least as early as 2014 and drew in about $1.5 million per year, based on the street value of the heroin, District Attorney Ken Thompson said at a press conference Thursday.
In a months-long investigation involving wiretaps and video surveillance, detectives found that Tavera and his colleagues made nearly a dozen sales in South Williamsburg and several more in Bed-Stuy, Ridgewood, Long Island City and Staten Island.
READ: 778 Driggs Avenue was also the site of a famous Frank Serpico drug bust in the '70s.
Major distributors of Tavera's drugs included a Manhattan courthouse clerk who used official work phones to arrange deals and an aspiring substance-abuse counselor, the DA's office added.
The clerk, Jason Collazo, 36, of Staten Island, worked to supervise people in Manhattan performing community service and used work phones to make deals, while Michael Mineo, 37 also of Staten Island, had a job application pending to counsel drug addicts in the state.
Collazo and Mineo were charged Thursday for selling heroin, and investigations are ongoing to see if they sold to any clients or supervisees.
One strain of the heroin they dealt, called "Scorpion," was particularly dangerous, resulting in constricted throats, swelling lips, hives and shock for its users, the DA said. The dealers jokingly described the effects as a "scorpion's bite," according to a recording of a phone conversation between Collazo and Mineo obtained by the DA.
In one part of the recording, Mineo tells Collazo that one man's face swelled up and broke out in hives from "head to toe" after using the drug.
"I couldn’t stop laughing at him, bro," Mineo said to Collazo, according to the recording.
It's unclear how many people used the particular strain, officials said.
Tavera's home on Driggs Avenue — a building run by the nonprofit Los Sures as low-income housing — acted as the distribution center for the heroin, with brands like "Knockout," "Power Hour," "Gucci" and "Killing Time," the DA's office said.
His sister, Sheila Taveras, 26, bagged and transported the heroin, while his brother Jose "Champ" Taveras, 26, cousin Gustavo Taveras, 27, and cousin Christian "Handsome" Rodriguez, 24, all helped supply the drug, the DA said.
Additionally, Tavera's his mother, Haydee Cordero, 46, laundered the money through a Chase Bank at 225 Havermeyer St., the DA's office said. She was also recorded making deals in code, using words like "bundles" to describe the drug, Thompson said.
Detectives started the investigation after a tip-off from a confidential informant in 2014, Thompson said.
More than 40 people total were arrested for drug sales and possession over the course of the investigation.
A total of 25 people will be indicted this week on 368 counts, including second-degree conspiracy, criminal sale of a controlled substance and money laundering. They face up to 25 years in prison for some charges.
It's unclear where the heroin was coming from, but some 90 percent of the drug in New York City is imported from South America, with Mexican drug cartels transporting it from Colombia, officials said.
Investigators did not directly tie any deaths to sales from this ring, Thompson said, but the goal is to lock dealers up before that can occur.
“There’s a growing heroin epidemic in New York and other parts of the country that’s taking the lives of many of our young people hooked on this deadly and highly-addictive drug," Thompson said in a statement. "We must deal with this quiet drug plague by going after those who peddle this poison in our communities."