Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York Heroin traffickers disguised as travelers drove an SUV mounted with bicycles and a kayak while smuggling up to $12 million worth of the drug monthly from Mexico to New York, authorities said.Undercover Nassau County detectives who bought a pound of heroin in Manhasset and Great Neck traced it to the source over the course of an 18-month continuing joint investigation with New York City and federal authorities, prosecutors said. When New Jersey State Police stopped the alleged drug ring’s Dodge Durango on Sept. 23, investigators said they found about 5 kilos of vacuum-packed black tar heroin hidden in the engine block—making it undetectable to drug-sniffing dogs at the U.S.-Mexico border.“A border patrol dog would not have picked it up, it was so well secreted,” Rick Whelan, chief of the Nassau district attorney’s organized crime bureau, told reporters Thursday during a news conference announcing the bust. “That car blends in. It traveled up from Mexico through California, across the country… to New York. It just looked like a couple of people on vacation.”Of nine suspects that have been rounded up in what investigators dubbed “Operation Smackdown,” two Queens men were charged in Nassau County court. They include 38-year-old Ajay Carter, aka Jose Zambrano, and 42-year-old Miguel Tormo, who both pleaded not guilty last month to charges of criminal sale of a controlled substance. Their attorneys were not immediately available for comment.Read more: How Long Island is Losing its War on Heroin Authorities released this flow chart showing how they allege the heroin made its way from heroin to New York City and Long Island.The 24-year-old alleged ringleader, Cesar “Menor” Romero-Astudillo of the Bronx, is accused of ordering two unidentified traffickers to drive the heroin-filled SUV from Mexico to what prosecutors described as a network of drug houses. The truck was taken apart at an Astoria auto body shop, the smuggling compartment would be packed with millions in cash and then the truck would drive back to Mexico, authorities said. Romero-Astudillo also allegedly had drug mules swallow balloons filled with heroin and fly to New York.Taylor Koss, the Manhattan-based attorney for Romero-Astudillo, who also pleaded not guilty to drug charges last month, said investigators did not find any heroin in his client’s possession and he is still awaiting copies of the wiretap evidence authorities said they used to make their case. He said it was unusual for his client to be charged with operating as a major trafficker “but not have any narcotics attributed to him.” A Manhattan judge ordered he be held without bail and he faces 25 years to life in prison, if convicted.In the Nassau case, Carter also allegedly sold cocaine, MDMA—aka ecstasy or molly—and anabolic steroids through Craigslist by using code words. Judge Teresa Corrigan set bail for him and Tormo at $5 million bond or $2.5 million cash. Carter faces up to 40 years in prison and Tormo faces up to 20 years in prison, if convicted. They are due back in court on Jan. 8.Authorities noted the rise in fatal heroin overdoses on LI in recent years was an unintended side effect of the crackdown on prescription drug abuse that made addicts turn to heroin when pill supplies dried up. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said: “This case proves that the battle lines in our fight to save lives in the midst of a devastating heroin epidemic don’t end at any border.”
Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York Halfway through his routine at NYCB Theatre at Westbury last Friday, British-born political satirist John Oliver whipped out his smart phone and searched “Long Island Big Duck.”The search result prompted him to instantly fall to his knee and become consumed by laughter.Oliver apparently makes it his mission to uncover strange facts about each American town he visits. For example, seeing a sign for a library in Boise, Idaho, prompted him to wonder why it’s punctuated with an exclamation point—he learned it was paid for by a charitable donation. Here he wondered out loud why any region would need a giant duck. Long Island’s response: why not?The famed Big Duck wasn’t the only weird fact that Oliver uncovered: a more extensive search noted another popular, err, destination.“What’s the Commack Motor Inn?” Oliver asked the crowd, which erupted in the kind of laughter you get when nearly everyone is on the joke except for the naïve few.“Hourly rates!” yelled a man in the audience. Oliver let that one sink in for a few seconds.He appeared to take as much joy from the back-and-forth with the appreciative crowd as those who paid to see the popular comedian in a very different format than they’re used to.Oliver just completed the first season of his new HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” which ended with rave reviews. In that provocative program, Oliver sits behind a desk and does the news, though he does not accept the title of journalist. For years, he worked as a “correspondent” on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” and then took over for Stewart while he was away producing his film “Rosewater.” Oliver’s unofficial late-night audition impressed HBO bosses, who later offered him his own show on Sunday evenings, considered prime-time real estate on the subscription-based network.On “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver predominantly focuses on politics, sometimes for the laughs and other times to raise awareness, like when he discussed how the US government fails to welcome into this country Afghan interpreters who were crucial to the military’s effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Sometimes the comedian spurs people into action. Take, for example, when he encouraged the masses to deluge the Federal Communications Commission with letters supporting Net Neutrality. The day after the show aired, the FCC Tweeted that its comment system was experiencing “technical difficulties” due to “heavy traffic.”Since cable consumers have to pay a separate charge to watch HBO, the network’s shows are not judged by TV ratings so it’s hard to analyze how well their exclusive productions are performing. But Oliver’s success can be judged by the Internet’s reaction to his show in the days and weeks after it airs: His segments spawn dozens, if not hundreds, of articles from news organizations and his YouTube clips can hit upwards of 7 million views for a single video.In short time, he has become just as effective, or even more so, than Stewart, his mentor, and fellow satirist Stephen Colbert, whose Comedy Central show will come to an end this week.Oliver rarely holds back during “Last Week Tonight,” often discussing topics that irk him—America’s drone war, police militarization, student loan debt—and feverishly pounds away at them. But he was less audacious during his stand-up routine in Westbury, briefly mentioning recent news events like last week’s Senate torture report. He gave his two cents and then moved on.Oliver seemed content with discussing rather more innocuous topics: how a pigeon wandering around Newark Liberty National Airport reinvigorated seemingly lifeless travelers, how a “Frozen Dead Guy Day” in Colorado came to be, and recalling a letter to the editor that a local Boise newspaper received from a reader aghast at his bewilderment over the unusual “Library!” sign.Taken together, this was Oliver’s portrait of America: a spectacularly diverse country with idiosyncratic communities that we understand but regrettably take for granted. Oliver, however, seems to prefer the US to his home country, which he admonishes for pillaging other lands in its failed quest for world domination. To be fair, he has problems with US policy as well, but he finds America’s peculiarities—the Big Duck, for example—unbelievably charming.The strategy seemed to sit well with the nearly sold out crowd. He drew huge laughs when he discovered the history of the Big Duck and took jabs at LI for its omnipresent traffic. When he asked the crowd for examples about what made Westbury unique, he was amused when a woman muttered: “There’s no Eastbury.” When he admitted to his youthful futility on the soccer field, the crowd seemed to let out a giggle all at once, prompting Oliver to shout: “Fuck you, Long Island!”Some Oliver fans may have been eager to hear him dissect politics and touch upon a range of issues affecting the country. But Oliver does that on Sunday nights.The Englishman often mentioned how much he adores this country and how grateful he is for the opportunities he’s been afforded since coming here. His retelling of his experience across America was his way of giving back.Thank you, John, for reminding us all just how wonderfully weird this place we call home truly is.