State police and F.B.I. agents raided two local strip clubs early Tuesday morning and executed 27 federal arrest warrants as part of a more than year-long drug investigation. Federal authorities say a local heroin ring used strippers and other strip club employees to sell drugs to strip club patrons. As the sun was coming up Tuesday morning the F.B.I. Safe Streets Task Force swooped in on Rick's Tally Ho on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga and the 24 Karat Gold club on Lakeshore Road in Blasdell. At the same time other agents were raiding homes on 7th Street and other locations in Buffalo. Among those arrested is Jay Vellon, 37, who federal agents believe is the ring leader of the drug distribution ring. He's accused of selling cocaine and heroin out of homes on Seventh Street and directing deliveries to the strip clubs.
"We used numerous investigative techniques including wire taps as well as uncover buys," says U.S. Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter.
Others arrested in Tuesday's sweep include the managers of both Rick's Tally Ho and 24 Karat Gold as well as some dancers at the clubs. All the suspects are charged with conspiracy although officials say there may have been prostitution going on in the clubs as well. "That was not the focus of the investigation," says Mehltretter, "The focus of the investigation is the fact that employees of the club were buying what we call bundles of heroin." Mehltretter says the bundles consisted of more heroin than one would purchase for personal consumption.
This drug bust is one of several in Western New York lately that has focused on heroin -- a drug that's gaining in popularity in part because it's cheaper than cocaine and it's often a drug those addicted to prescription drugs turn to when they can no longer get their prescriptions. "I think what's important is it shows all of our commitments to making the streets of Buffalo and Western New York safer and free from drugs, guns and violence," says Major Chris Cummings of the New York State Police.
The F.B.I. says there is no evidence that the club owners knew of the drug operation, and they have not been charged in this case. If Jay Vellon is convicted he could face up to 30 years in prison. The other suspects are looking at potentially ten years behind bars.