|Jesus DelValle (top, left), Benjamin Cruz-Hernandez|
Jose Andeno (bottom left) and Wilcidez Nunez Galindez
Monday, May 12, 2014
Alleged ring members linked to deadly heroin headed to trial
Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Four Philadelphia men accused of operating a large-scale heroin ring who authorities believe are connected to two Bucks County overdose deaths are headed to trial, though technically the case against them remains sealed under court order.
Following a 4½-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday, Bensalem District Judge Leonard Brown held Wilcidez “Wil” Nunez-Galindez, 46, Benjamin “Kenko” Cruz-Hernandez, 45, Jose “Juan” Andeno, 29, and Jesus “Johnny” DelValle Sr., 55, for trial on charges including felony drug delivery, taking part in a criminal organization and related charges. If convicted, they could each face more than 20 years in prison.
While the DA contends the ring members sold heroin linked to fatal overdoses, none of the defendants are charged with drug delivery resulting in death, a rarely used felony charge. Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub said he couldn’t charge the men because he couldn’t prove the “chain of custody” with the heroin connected to the deaths.
The defense attorneys representing the men asserted the charges against their clients should be dismissed based on venue, since the drug transactions all took place in Philadelphia, not Bucks County. They also argued that the corrupt organization charges also should be dropped since final lab test results on the drugs are pending in seven of the eight buys.
Weintraub obtained formal permission from Philadelphia’s DA to prosecute the case in Bucks County. He contended a fatal heroin overdose in Newtown Township on Dec. 22, 2013, acted as the catalyst that launched the three-month drug investigation that resulted in the arrests.
On that day, a 30-year-old man was found dead in his bedroom with two empty blue wax envelopes stamped “Watch the Throne,” hypodermic needles and a spoon — all paraphernalia associated with heroin use, said Newtown Township Detective Jason Harris, one of seven witnesses who testified.
Police also found the dead man’s cellphone, which contained two phone numbers — one listed as “Kenko” and the other as “Joe’s Buddy,” which investigators say are tied to Hernandez.
The same phone numbers were found on a cellphone of another person who nearly died in December of a overdose of heroin also brand-stamped “Watch the Throne,” according to authorities.
Weeks after the Newtown Township death, authorities in Bucks County, Philadelphia and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents launched an investigation into the alleged Philadelphia-based heroin operation believing it was selling large amounts of the drug in Bucks County.
As part of the investigation, an undercover Philadelphia police narcotics officer — identified as R.G. — posed as a low-level drug dealer who was re-selling the ring’s heroin in Bucks County. The officer testified Tuesday that he purchased heroin brand-stamped “Real Steel” eight times from the ring between January and March.
A blue wax baggie containing heroin residue found in the Bensalem motel room where a 28-year-old Holland man died of a fatal overdose on March 13 was brand-stamped “Real Steel,” Bensalem Detective Stephen Clark testified.
The dead man’s cellphone also contained the same two phone numbers tied to the suspected heroin operation. A check found the man had called the number two days before his death, Clark said.
Most of Tuesday’s hearing revolved around R.G.’s testimony including that he arranged the transactions, some of which were video and voice recorded, using the phone numbers found on the cellphones of the Bucks County residents who overdosed on “Watch the Throne.”
R.G. testified that he arranged and purchased the heroin either through Hernandez or Nunez-Galindez, and that on the final three purchases Andeno acted as the runner, delivering the drugs. Authorities believe that DelValle Sr. was the operation’s ring leader.
During one of his drug buys, R.G. testified he told Nunez-Galindez that he was selling the heroin for $15 a bag in Bucks County and asked about purchasing bulk bundles.
R.G. also testified he asked about getting bundles stamped “Watch the Throne,” which he said was popular in Bucks County. Nunez-Galindez responded that the “Watch the Throne” brand stamp was changed to “Real Steel,” but he would ask his boss about it. The request was ultimately rejected.
When R.G. asked Hernandez about buying in bulk at a lower price, he was told the request had to be approved by “Johnny” — “the guy who ran the show,” according to R.G. — who authorities say is DelValle Sr. R.G. testified he was eventually given a bulk discount rate.
Bucks County Detective Dale Keddie Jr., who headed the investigation, testified that he interviewed DelValle Sr. after he and the others were arrested March 21 when search warrants were executed at DelValle’s Braddock Street home.
The detectives seized a cellphone connected to the phone numbers found in an overdose victim’s phone, $23,000, a 9mm Ruger handgun, small amounts of cocaine, marijuana and Xanax, and 47 grams of heroin worth about $15,820 on the street.
Keddie testified that after listening to an R.G. recording purported to be of Delvalle, he believes that DeValle Sr. is “Johnny.” He also said that DeValle Sr. admitted that the drugs, cellphones and money found with the warrants were his, but he denied possessing a gun also found in a vehicle.
DeValle also told Keddie he had “other people” working for him to distribute the heroin.
Bucks County Detective Tim Carroll also testified that he interviewed Nunez-Galindez after he was arrested and that he admitted selling heroin — specifically the brand-stamps “Watch the Throne” and “Real Steel”— and he was paid $300 a week by a person he described as “like an uncle to him.”
“I knew this day was going to come,” Carroll testified that Nunez-Galindez told him.
The entire investigation and subsequent 38-page criminal case was placed under a court ordered seal, which remains for 60 days. The records were initially sealed to protect the suspects if they decided to cooperate with authorities, but when they did not, Weintraub decided to let the seal expire rather than open the record.
Last month the newspaper revealed the arrests after obtaining a copy of the sealed court record. The suspects were arrested and secretly arraigned before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone under “John Doe” names. They remain incarcerated in Bucks County prison under an unknown bail.