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Accused drug traffickers hire undercover cops: DA

Queens cocaine users were denied a white Christmas this year, District Attorney Richard Brown said last week as he announced a $25 million seizure.

The international shipment of cocaine destined for distribution in Queens was seized because suspected traffickers strayed from their regular carriers and unwittingly hired undercover police detectives for the last leg of the cocaine’s trip. the DA said.

Brown said the change in routine was due to concerns about heightened security in place since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He told reporters that three men, in a rush to fill a holiday order of 200 kilos, or 440 pounds, of high-quality Colombian cocaine, were arrested Dec. 17 for taking part in the drug ring that stretched from Tijuana, Mexico to Woodside, Queens.

Queens narcotics detectives learned in early December that the shipment had crossed into San Diego, Calif. from Mexico and left Dec. 10 for Nazareth, Pa., in a truck full of lettuce. The cocaine was intended for distribution to drug wholesalers in Queens who had placed large pre-holiday orders, Brown said.

Worried about heightened security at New York City’s bridges and tunnels, two suspected traffickers, Jose Lopez, 39, and Freddy Leyva, 30, allegedly paid “subcontractors” to make the last leg of the trip to Queens, Brown said.

“The traffickers did not realize that the ‘subcontractors’ to whom they offered a $45,000 fee for delivery of the cocaine were actually undercover detectives who had previously infiltrated the gang,” the DA said.

The infiltration, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, “eradicated a threat” to Woodside.

When the undercover officers arrived at the delivery location, the corner of 64th Street and Queens Boulevard, they met Manuel Marte, 27, who allegedly loaded the cocaine into his Honda sedan. He was arrested on the scene. At the same time, Lopez and Leyva were arrested in Nazareth by detectives working with the Pennsylvania State Police.

“We can put a number on the amount of drugs seized here,” Kelly said at a news conference in Brown’s office, “but we can’t put a number on the lives saved as a result of this seizure.”

Kelly added that 70 percent of New York street drugs come through Mexico.

The three alleged traffickers were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and, if convicted, could face up to life in prison.

Marte, of Corona, was being held without bail in Queens while Lopez, no known address, and Leyva, of Manassas, Va., were each being held on $10 million bail and were awaiting extradition from Pennsylvania.

Stepped-up security since Sept. 11 is also indirectly driving down the wholesale price of cocaine, said NYPD Inspector Thomas Mullen, who attended the news conference. A kilo of cocaine, which cost about $28,000 before the attacks, now sells for around $23,000, Mullen said.

He said there was a “fear about coming over bridges because of checkpoints,” resulting in a “bottleneck” of shipments outside the city.

“They have to get their money so they’re willing to let it go at a cheaper price,” he said.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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