Members of Staten Island narcotics distribution network arrested on federal drug and firearm charges

NEW YORK - Five individuals who are believed to have run a crack and powder cocaine distribution network based on Staten Island, New York, have been arrested, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)and the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

A five-count superseding indictment in the case was unsealed Wednesday in the Eastern District of New York and is the result of an ongoing investigation into criminal activity on the north shore of Staten Island. The five defendants are Andre Collier, 30; Benito Il Defonso, 34; Steven Il Defonso, 32; Alexandra Klein, 32; and Dion Nelson, 31; will appear in federal court at noon Friday, February 11, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in Brooklyn, New York.

Each defendant has been charged with, among other offenses, conspiring to distribute crack and powder cocaine, and using and carrying firearms while carrying out their drug trafficking conspiracy. As detailed in the superseding indictment and other filings with the court, the defendants sold both wholesale and retail quantities of crack and powder cocaine in Staten Island over the past ten years and used violence, and the threat of violence, to protect their trafficking operations.

Court documents detail how in 2002, Benito Il Defonso, a leader of the group, allegedly conspired to murder a witness in a trial of codefendant Andre Collier who was being tried for an earlier shooting. In 2008 and 2009, the defendants used members of the Bloods street gang to protect multiple narcotics stash houses they operated in a Staten Island apartment.

On September 18, 2009, law enforcement authorities served a search warrant at a stash house operated by the defendant Dion Nelson. At that time, four loaded firearms, two bullet-proof vests, numerous rounds of ammunition, and quantities of narcotics and drug paraphernalia were seized.

"This investigation targeted allegedly violent individuals engaged in destructive patterns of behavior, including drug trafficking and violence," said HSI special agent-in-charge James T. Hayes, Jr. "We are pleased to be working closely with our law enforcement partners and remain dedicated to bringing this type of criminal activity to a halt in our communities."

"As alleged in the indictment and related court filings, these defendants are members of a long-standing, armed drug ring that has wreaked havoc in Staten Island for years," stated U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. "We are grateful for the continuing cooperation of the Office of the District Attorney for Richmond County in connection with this investigation and prosecution."

"Time and time again law enforcement has seen violence associated with drug trafficking. As alleged, this investigation identified a drug organization that used guns and intimidation in order to further their illegal drug sales for one reason only, to make a profit," said DEA special agent-in-charge John P. Gilbride. "These arrests exemplify that law enforcement will not tolerate drug trafficking and the associated violence. We are determined to provide safe communities for the residents of New York City."

"The five individuals arrested and charged today allegedly sold crack and cocaine and used violence to further their drug trade. As reflected in documents filed with the court, one defendant even conspired to murder a witness he believed intended to testify about an earlier shooting," said NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "I commend the NYPD detectives, DEA and HIS agents, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for their work in bringing the defendants to justice."

To date, this investigation has resulted in the filing of federal narcotics and firearms charges against more than 25 individuals. If convicted, the defendants face maximum sentences of life imprisonment.

The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shreve Ariail, Daniel Silver, and Zainab Ahmad. The charges contained in the superseding indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.