Prosecutors in New York City have secured a conviction for a drug kingpin from the Bronx who used his family as collateral in drug deals.
Jose “Hippie” Mercedes will serve 14 years in state prison followed by five years post release supervision for possessing over 150 pounds of heroin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Authorities say that was just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Mercedes ran a multimillion dollar narcotics trafficking organization in which he distributed hundreds of pounds of heroin that enabled him to “live a lavish lifestyle,” the DEA said in a release.
His operation roped in family members, the agency said, including his brother, son, nieces, and nephews.
“Mercedes controlled members of his family in almost every respect, requiring them to potentially sacrifice their lives to live with Mexican cartels well known for violence,” the release states.
In addition to using them as collateral, they also served as mules to ferry drugs across state lines, packaged drugs for resale, and registered cars and apartments in fake names to evade detection.
When Mercedes was arrested, police also found $2 million in cash under the floorboards of the organization’s apartment and a firearm in another apartment.
“No prison sentence could possibly compensate the thousands from every community who have lost loved ones to heroin addiction, but I hope this lengthy sentence and our successful investigation will serve as a warning to traffickers who try to use our city as their headquarters,” said Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan.
Mercedes was arrested in 2015. Investigators recovered the narcotics and cash from a vehicle and an apartment in the Fieldston section of the Bronx, near Horace Mann School and adjacent to Van Cortlandt Park.
At the time, the DEA said this was the largest narcotics bust in New York State in DEA history, and the fourth largest heroin seizure in the United States.
His arrest followed a year-long investigation by the DEA, state police, New York City police, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with help from the Yonkers Police Department and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
A court authorized a wiretap of Mercedes and his accomplices, and in the days leading up to the to his arrest, detectives intercepted phone conversations suggesting they were expecting the delivery of a large load of heroin. They set up surveillance outside an apartment in the Fieldston area of the Bronx where the drug organization was suspected of holding a stash of drugs.
The agents used a K-9 from the Yonkers Police Department to sniff out drugs in one of the vehicles driven by Mercedes. Shortly after they made that confirmation, they stopped him for questioning outside the apartment in Fieldston. They recovered several bags of a tan powdery substance, at least one of which tested positive for heroin, from his front seat and a hidden compartment in the center of the front console.
Police also stopped his cohort, Yenci Cruz Francisco, and obtained a search warrant for the vehicle he was driving. They uncovered 70 kilos of heroin labeled with the organization’s trademark “Rolex” under the floor of the vehicle, and $24,000 in cash. Both were arrested and charged with operating as a major trafficker and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree.
On Sept. 14, Mercedes pleaded guilty to the first charge a day before his trial was scheduled to begin in Manhattan Supreme Court.