Four Queens men were arrested for their alleged roles in a drug ring run out of homes in Bayside, Brooklyn and an upstate town after federal agents seized over one ton of marijuana at the three locations, two of which were near schools.
Over $3 million in alleged drug proceeds were also confiscated, according to United States Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf, who announced the arrests last week. Mauskopf said that the ring had operated since 1997, employed 15 people and grossed nearly $12 million.
The news shocked local civic leaders, including Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece, who called it a “terrible thing.” Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association, simply said, “Holy cow! You never know.”
The men arrested were Peter Zuccaro, 49, of Howard Beach, an alleged Gambino crime family associate; Joseph Iorio, 34, of Howard Beach; Harry Gabor, 35, of Woodhaven; Michael Lezamiz, 33, of Bayside, Zuccaro’s brother-in-law, and Leonard Palone, 39, of Brooklyn. Zuccaro, who Mauskopf identified as the ringleader, was transferred from prison in Florida, where he is serving time on an unrelated charge, and arraigned last Thursday. He pleaded not guilty.
This is not the first time Zuccaro has been arrested for cultivating marijuana plants. He served time in 1997 in Nassau County for possessing and selling the drug.
Each defendant is charged with conspiring to traffic more than 1,000 marijuana plants or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a grammar school. They are also each charged with money laundering and face 20 years’ imprisonment on both counts and may be forced to forfeit over $12 million in property and corporate assets. There is a mandatory sentence of 10 years if the defendants are convicted of selling drugs near a school.
“Through the combined efforts of state and local law enforcement, we were able to uncover the defendants’ secret operations, arrest the crew and its leader, seize more than a ton of marijuana and cut off the lifeblood of the defendants’ operation,” Mauskopf said.
The arrests were unrelated to an arrest made at a Bayside home earlier this month. Police said they found seven pounds of marijuana at the home of Aristo Panagiotakos, 35, along with a sophisticated hydroponic growing system.
Authorities found hydroponics at the three homes in connection with last week’s busts. The Bayside home, which belongs to Lezamiz and is on 56th Avenue, is less than 500 feet from St. Robert Bellarmine School. The Brooklyn home is within 1,000 feet of a public school.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, authorities recovered more than 160 marijuana plants and nine jars of an extremely rare and potent form of the herb that retails for approximately $1,000 per jar. The plants weighed more than 2,600 pounds. Agents also seized 50 pounds of marijuana “buds” with a street value of over $5,000 per pound, hashish, a truck, speed boat, $50,000 in cash and marijuana-growing paraphernalia.
Tipsters first called the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, which alerted the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Attorney’s Office.