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Raid nabs alleged western Massachusetts drug lord

  • CITY OF HOLYOKE<br/>This building at 556 South Bridge St. in Holyoke is the alleged headquarters of the La Familia street gang's heroin operation.
  • DAN CROWLEY<br/>A display of cash and guns taken in connection with the heroin bust in Holyoke.
  • Francisco Diaz<br/>COURTESY OF MASSLIVE.COM/HOLYOKE POLICE DEPARTMENT

Five others connected to a heroin distribution ring also were rounded up in coordinated arrests in Springfield and Chicopee, an operation law enforcement officials called 60 Minutes.

“There is a significant drug problem in western Massachusetts,” Holyoke Police Chief James M. Neiswanger said during a press conference Friday afternoon at the city’s police headquarters. “When you take off the head of the snake, I think you’ve put a pretty good dent in the operation.”

The 11 men indicted Friday in U.S. District Count, including 10 from Holyoke, were charged with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute heroin or cocaine after local police and federal agents raided an apartment building in South Holyoke.

The men are Francisco Diaz, 34, also known as Franco, who authorities say is the leader of La Familia in Holyoke; Kelly Arzate, 29; Antonio Caraballo, 35; Luzander Montoy, 29; Miguel Medina, 30; William Rodriguez, 28; Pedro Colon, 31; Reynaldo Figueroa, 27; Miguel Alcazar, 23; Edison Lajara, 25; and Charlie Santiago, 32, of Springfield. Figueroa and Colon also were indicted on a charges of unlawful firearm possession.

“These drug dealers, or thugs, make the streets of our city unsafe,” Neiswanger said. “They really are a cancer to our society that should be cut out and sent to prison for a very, very long time.”

Authorities said the raid at 556 South Bridge St. came after a long-term and sophisticated law enforcement investigation into heroin and cocaine trafficking in Holyoke and surrounding communities by members of the competing La Familia and Latin Kings streets gangs.

The indictments allege each of the defendants, all of whom have criminal histories with drugs and firearms, distributed heroin or cocaine in Holyoke during the past eight months. If convicted, each faces from 10 to 30 years to life in prison, according to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office.

Neiswanger said the South Holyoke area has been plagued by drug problems for years, particularly at 556 South Bridge St., where police have made many drug-related arrests over the years. The four-story, eight-unit tenement building has been a magnet for criminal activity and police records show people have come from well beyond Holyoke’s borders to obtain drugs at that building.

The property has been owned by Lucjan and Xiaoping Hronowski under Windsor Realty LLC in Bedford since 2002, according to property records. The owners could not reached for comment Friday.

Raid’s yield

The raid and arrests Friday netted approximately $38,000 in cash, several handguns, a submachine gun and an unspecified amount of illegal drugs. It involved the Western Massachusetts Gang Task Force, which includes members from the FBI, the Holyoke Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police, Springfield Police Department, Hampden County Sheriff’s Office and other local police departments.

The targeted raid and arrests also involved members of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Marshal Service.

“It required the help of all these agencies to get this done,” said Neiswanger, who was surrounded by law enforcement officials from more than a half dozen state and federal agencies. “A lot of this takes a great many man-hours and resources.”

According to a detention affidavit by FBI agent Mark S. Karangekis, all those arrested Friday are alleged to be leaders, members or associates of La Familia, an organized gang whose membership is primarily made up of individuals of Puerto Rican descent. Current leadership and senior members remain heavily involved in drug distribution, supplying lower-ranking La Familia members and associates with drugs, including heroin, according to the affidavit.

“Unfortunately, the drug trade goes on,” Neiswanger said. “The reality is, I want to seize the territory down there (South Bridge Street area) and hold onto it.”

The Holyoke Police Narcotics Unit targeted several drug distribution points, including the South Bridge Street building, using a wide-range of investigative techniques, including controlled drug buys. Those buys moved through a chain of low-level heroin dealers to mid-level dealers, to an inner leadership circle and eventually to Francisco Diaz himself, according to the affidavit.

During one encounter with Diaz, a confidential source reported that the gang leader “boasted ... about running the heroin distribution operation, setting prices and determining which members and associates of La Familia would be involved,” the affidavit states.

Speaking Friday at Holyoke police headquarters, Karangekis said one of the primary objectives in what remains an ongoing investigation is to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises involving drug and firearms trafficking in western Massachusetts. To those continuing to operate in the area’s illegal drug trade, he cautioned, “We’ll be knocking on your door one early morning.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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