By Stella Lorence and Chris O’Brien
BU News Service
BOSTON — Five defendants pleaded not guilty to fentanyl trafficking charges early this week in federal court after various federal investigations led to the arrest of several dozen men, the Department of Justice said.
A former City of Boston employee, Gary Webster of Brockton, pleaded not guilty to six counts of drug-related crime in U.S. District Court on Monday after being arrested in a federal sweep last summer.
Webster was arrested in August 2018 with 28 other people, according to a statement from the Department of Justice. Webster is charged with possession and intent to distribute cocaine and fentanyl, prosecutor Phillip Mallard said Monday in court.
Webster began working for the City of Boston in 2012 as an administrative secretary for the Inspectional Services Department, according to city payroll data. He became a secretary for the Boston City Council in 2014, a position he held until he was arrested in 2018.
The arrests were made as part of the Project Safe Neighborhood Initiative, which targeted “impact players and repeat offenders” of violent crime in Boston, the statement said.
Two separate federal investigations codenamed Operation Landshark and Operation Nor’Easter involved law enforcement officers making controlled purchases of weapons and drugs, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and cocaine base, according to the press release.
Another defendant arrested in this sweep was Ted Walker, of Brighton, who was convicted of first-degree murder after he shot and killed Boston police Detective John Schroeder in 1973, according to the Boston Globe. His conviction was overturned following a federal appeal, and he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Walker was arrested again on armed robbery charges in 1995 and again in 2009 for drug charges. He is charged now with unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition and unlawful sale of a firearm.
“He killed a Boston police officer . . . several crimes committed against civilians as well. I don’t believe he should have been let out of prison,” Boston police Commission William Gross said at a press conference after the arrests had been made.
Webster meanwhile has been released on bail and his jury trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 18.
On Tuesday, two men arrested in a sweep dubbed Operation Devil’s Highway made their initial appearances after being arrested in September. The 10-week federal sweep included 40 people and seized 14 kilograms of fentanyl, 29 kilograms of cocaine and four firearms.
“Operation Devil’s Highway was tremendously successful in targeting street-level drug trafficking in Lawrence, which is a hub of illegal drug distribution for all of New England,” United States Attorney Andrew Lelling said in September.
Crishanty Aybar Arias, a Dominican national living in Lawrence, pleaded not guilty to possession with intent to sell over 40 grams of fentanyl during his initial appearance after prosecutors called his home the distribution hub for the suspect that spurred the federal investigation.
A cooperating witness told police the residence was a hotbed of illicit drug distribution, according to a federal affidavit.
Arias is scheduled for a status conference on Nov. 12.
William Arias-Castillo, also a Dominican national residing in Lawrence, pleaded not guilty to possession with intent to sell over 40 grams of fentanyl Tuesday. He faces up to 40 years in prison, a $5 million fine and a lifetime of supervised release.
Castillo allegedly sold heroin and fentanyl to undercover officers on multiple occasions in Lawrence as part of Operation Devil’s Highway. After two successful buys, officers conducted a third and final purchase from Castillo on Sept. 11 at a Market Basket in Methuen where he was arrested.
A status conference on his case has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 5.
James de la Cruz, 28, and Juan Santos Roque, 46, both of New York, appeared together for their initial appearance on charges of possession and intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl after the pair were arrested Monday.
Cruz and Roque were contacted by a cooperating witness who worked with investigators to purchase six kilograms of heroin and 10 kilograms of fentanyl from the defendants outside a motel in Peabody after the two allegedly drove the drug from New York to New England, prosecutors said.
The two face a mandatory 10-year prison sentence with a possibility of life, and up to a $10 million fine.
Roque, a Dominican national, faces immigration consequences, said U.S. prosecutor Stephen Hassink.
The prosecution recommended both defendants remain in detention before their hearing because they are a flight risk and a potential danger to the community.
A detention and probable cause hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 1 for both defendants.