By Lori Comstock New Jersey Herald
A Middletown, N.Y., fire lieutenant, two volunteer firefighters, two former police officers and members of outlaw biker gangs were among those charged Tuesday in connection with drug rings that trafficked fentanyl and cocaine.
Authorities with the Orange County (N.Y.) District Attorney’s office and New York State Police announced Tuesday the arrests of 29 people in a large-scale operation dubbed “Operation Bread, White and Blue,” with one man at the center of it all: Middletown Fire Department Lt. Paul G. Smith, of Deerpark, N.Y., a 48-year-old career firefighter.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said Smith used Middletown’s Central Fire Station, located just 14 miles from the Sussex County border, for his illicit business, but indicated no other firefighters of that department were involved.
“Significant events happened there,” Hoovler said.
Prosecutors say there were two functioning drug rings, one involving members and associates of self-professed outlaw biker gangs the Burnt Pistols and the Chingalings, which trafficked cocaine, and another that involved the sale of narcotic pills represented as oxycodone but which contained the potentially lethal drug fentanyl.
Authorities say both rings involved were connected by two men: Smith and volunteer Mechanicstown, N.Y., firefighter Robert Dunham Jr., 46, of Middletown.
It is alleged Smith and Dunham got the drugs from suppliers who, in turn, distributed them to others, including members of both Middletown-based motorcycle clubs.
Following a six-month investigation and the execution of several search warrants, more than 200 agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation made arrests in a pre-dawn raid Tuesday across Orange and Rockland counties.
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Recovered in the raids, which also targeted the fire station, was more than $200,000, 25 handguns, an assault rifle, multiple rifles, 10 vehicles, two motorcycles, more than 2.5 pounds of cocaine and 1,300 fentanyl pills.
Among those identified in the lineup were Burnt Pistols President John Beltempo, 49, of New Windsor; a former officer of Spring Valley and Wallkill police departments and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office; and Chingaling President George Thomas, 61, of Bloomingburg, also identified as a former police officer.
Smith and two other men, Garry Michel, 48, of Whitehall, and Marquis Gamble, 34, of Nyack, have been charged with operating as a major trafficker, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison in New York. Michel was dubbed the “profiteer” of the conspiracy to sell pills that were colored, stamped and marked as oxycodone, but were actually fentanyl, authorities said. Gamble is alleged to be the “profiteer” in the conspiracy to sell cocaine.
Authorities say the charge involves in excess of $75,000 in sales in a six-month period.
Smith, Michel, Gamble, Beltempo, Dunham and Thomas, along with the other defendants, have been charged with second-degree conspiracy, a felony in New York that carries a sentence of up to 25 years in state prison.
Also involved on the “street level,” authorities said, were pills dealers including Mechanicsville Fire Chief Dominic Guardino, 55, of Middletown, who allegedly used his department-issued vehicle to obtain pills.
Among those arrested in connection to the cocaine ring were men between the ages of 30 and 61 in various locations in New York, including Cuddebackville, New Windsor, Campbell Hall and Bloomingburg. Involved in the conspiracy to possess and sell fentanyl were men and women between the ages of 35 and 55, many of whom resided in Middletown.
During a press conference on Wednesday, multiple news outlets said Hoovler indicated the drug conspiracies were “very sophisticated,” using counter-surveillance and other methods to avoid detection.
New York State Police Capt. Brian Shortall told media that the unsuspecting people who bought the pills could “take one and die,” noting how dangerous the dose was.
According to public records, Smith is part of the New York State and Local Retirement System and has been employed by the Middletown Fire Department since 2002. In 2018, he made $126,866.
All defendants were arraigned Tuesday in the Orange County Court, where bail was set between $5,000 cash and up to $3 million bond, the latter set for the top defendants. A judge ordered Smith held without bail.
A grand jury is expected to hear the cases starting Friday.