Police bust cocaine link between New York and Martha’s Vineyard

Terrence Bell, in the white shirt, and Mitefea Kelly, were arraigned Friday morning in Edgartown District Court. — Photo by Michelle Williams

Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force made arrests in Woods Hole and Oak Bluffs Thursday, as part of a coordinated undercover police investigation that targeted a long-running drug distribution link between Queens, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Task Force members arrested Mitefea Kelly, 18, of Queens, described as a drug courier, moments after she stepped off a Steamship Authority ferry just after 2 pm, Thursday in Oak Bluffs. Police said they found 270 grams of cocaine in Ms. Kelly’s luggage with a street value of $30,000. It is believed to be the largest amount of cocaine ever seized on the Island.

In Woods Hole, task force members, assisted by State Police, arrested Terrence C. Bell, 34, of Queens, on an outstanding warrant stemming from an incident in January when police said he attempted to forcefully collect money from a Vineyard Haven man who owed a drug and prostitution debt. Police described Mr. Bell as the mastermind of the drug distribution network.

Mr. Bell was waiting in the vehicle standby lane to board a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard when he suddenly pulled out of the vehicle line and drove away from the ferry terminal. Police pursued his vehicle and made the arrest following a roadside stop.

Ms. Kelly was arraigned Friday morning in Edgartown District Court on a charge of trafficking in cocaine. In arguing for a high bail, Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard told Judge H. Gregory Williams that Ms. Kelly had a criminal record of defaults in New York, no known ties to Martha’s Vineyard, and faces a mandatory 15-year sentence in state prison if convicted.

Defence attorney Ryan Searle asked the judge to release Ms. Kelly on personal recognizance. Judge Williams set bail at $200,000.

Mr. Bell was arraigned on charges of breaking and entering in the daytime for a felony, destruction of property, and intimidation of a witness. Judge Williams set bail at $15,000.

As of Wednesday, Terrence Bell remained in the Dukes County Jail. Because the jail does not have facilities to hold women for an extended period of time, Ms. Kelly was transferred to the Women’s Center at the Dartmouth House of Correction.

Moving targets

Edgartown police detective Mike Snowden said he expects Thursday’s arrests to put a big dent in a drug operation that has stymied police, who had made small arrests but had been unable to nab the man who was the ringleader.

Detective Snowden said Mr. Bell was careful to insulate himself from the drugs and the transactions. “He’s the boss, he’s putting all this in play,” Mr. Snowden said. “And the other people who are getting caught literally holding the bag are his workers.”

Police seized Mr. Bell’s cell phones following his arrest. They will seek a search warrant to examine the data. Mr. Snowden said police would seek, based on the information they expect to recover, to link Mr. Bell to the seized cocaine and make a trafficking case.

Mr. Snowden said the case posed challenges to investigators because Mr. Bell relied on a series of couriers, often females unknown to task force members, who would travel to the Vineyard, stay a short time, and return to New York.

“We have to follow certain guidelines to build a case, and when people are moving around and you don’t know when they are coming or leaving, how much they are bringing or who it is, it is hard to put it all together,” he said.

Queens connection

Emile M. Rowe, 29, arrested this spring, was part of that network, Edgartown Police Sergeant Chris Dolby and a task force member, said.

In May 2008, Edgartown police arrested Mr. Rowe of Queens, following a traffic stop, on a charge of cocaine possession with intent to distribute, as well as two traffic offenses.

Police found six to eight grams of cocaine concealed in Mr. Rowe’s sock. Ms. Marshard asked for bail of $15,000. “The defendant has minimal if any ties to the Island,” Ms. Marshard told the court. “He was driving on a suspended driver’s license.”

Attorney Charles Morano, who represented Mr. Rowe at that bail hearing, said Mr. Rowe worked for the New York City sanitation department. “He was here visiting, planned to stay a couple of weeks, then go back to New York,” Mr. Morano said. Associate Justice Joseph I. Macy set bail at $10,000.

On April 13, 2012, drug task force officers arrested Mr. Rowe, 29, outside a small shed he lived in on Andrews Road in Tisbury, off Skiffs Lane. In the shed, police located nine grams of cocaine, $5,047 in two rolls of bills, a scale, and baggies.

Mr. Rowe posted $5,000 cash bail following his arraignment on Tuesday, April 17, on a charge of dealing cocaine. On April 20, Edgartown District Court issued a default arrest warrant when Mr. Rowe did not return to court for a bail hearing.

Needed break

State Police Sergeant Jeff Stone, a veteran member of the drug task force, said police drug investigators have been aware of a drug connection between Hollis, a neighborhood in Queens and Martha’s Vineyard for almost a decade but were stymied in their efforts to stop it at the source. “They’ve done this time and time again and we’ve arrested over the years, probably ten people just from that section, never with big amounts,” he said. “They’re very sophisticated the way they do it.”

Sergeant Stone said that information developed by Detective Snowden led to a break. “And it worked out very well,” he said.

The break investigators needed arrived in the form of a confidential source. In July, Officer Snowden received information that a black female from New York was selling drugs in the Edgartown Ocean Heights area near Arbutus Park. The source was able to “call her at any time and order cocaine,” according to the police report.

“The source stated that she would only come to the Island for a week at a time, leave, and head back to New York for a while, and then repeat the cycle.

“The source stated that this female was associated with a group of African-American males from the Hollis (Queens) area; the same group of males that have been under investigation by the MVDTF for years regarding large distribution of cocaine on Martha’s Vineyard.”

In July, Mr. Snowden began to watch the park. During his investigation he saw a woman, Ms. Kelly, who matched the description provided by his source.

Watch and wait

At the same time, police were keeping a watchful eye out for Mr. Bell, wanted by Tisbury Police in connection with an incident on January 21 at a house on North William Street.

The occupant of that house, a self-described cocaine and alcohol abuser, told police that he had been purchasing cocaine from “Tru,” later identified as Mr. Bell, for six years, according to the police report.

On January 19, the man said he purchased two grams of cocaine and the services of a prostitute from “Tru” for $350. The man promised to pay the bill the next day.

He did not pay the next day and ignored Mr. Bell’s telephone calls, police said. On January 21, Mr. Bell forced his way into the North William Street house and confronted his customer, not identified in the police report.

“Bell immediately and forcefully demanded the payment of his money and was very upset,” the man told police. The victim gave Mr. Bell $130. Mr. Bell demanded the man’s wallet. He refused to turn it over.

“Bell threatened (the man) that if he doesn’t pay him the money owed, that Bell was going to bring the woman from Thursday night into the police station and report that she was raped,” Officer Dustin Shaw wrote in his report. As the verbal confrontation escalated, the man, fearing that it would turn physical, called 911.

Mr. Bell left before police arrived. Police requested an arrest warrant be issued for Mr. Bell on charges of breaking and entering, malicious destruction of property (two doors); and intimidation of a witness.

Although police suspected that Mr. Bell had left the Island, they remained vigilant.

“He knew there was a warrant out for him, but he thought he could blend into the summer crowds,” Mr. Snowden said. “We’ve been waiting for him to show up.”

Patience pays off

On August 6 Detective Snowden learned that Ms. Kelly was expected to travel from New York to the Island in the next couple of days. Mr. Snowden and Oak Bluffs Police Officer Jeffrey LaBell began watching the Woods Hole bus terminal. Thursday afternoon Detective Snowden saw the woman he had watched in Arbutus Park step off the bus and retrieve a black suitcase from the luggage compartment. He followed her as she boarded a freight boat due to arrive in Oak Bluffs.

Sergeant Jeff Stone and Detective Dolby were waiting in Oak Bluffs when the ferry arrived about 2 pm, Thursday, August 9. They approached Ms. Kelly and identified themselves as police officers. The men said they were conducting a narcotics investigation and asked if they could speak to her, according to Mr. Dolby’s report.

Ms. Kelly told police she was from Queens and on the Island to visit a friend. She asked the police why they were stopping her. “It was again explained to her,” Mr. Dolby said, and she replied, ‘How did you even know I was coming? I didn’t even know I was coming.’ She then repeated this a couple of times. She then stated that we were doing this because she was black. We explained and pointed out to her that there were obviously other black people around and we were not talking to any of them.”

Police asked Ms. Kelly if there were drugs in her suitcase. She refused to answer. “During this time I could see that her legs were shaking,” Mr. Dolby said. “She was becoming increasing louder and beginning to attract the attention of passerby.”

Police opened the suitcase. Inside they found two potato sized wrapped objects they determined to be narcotics. During the search of her luggage Ms. Kelly “became even more boisterous,” according to the report.

She began singing. Sergeant Stone told her police had discovered what they believed to be cocaine. “She then stated, ‘You people make me do this.’ Sergeant Stone asked, ‘Who? Me? I make you do this?’ She then replied, ‘You white peeps, you the people buying it, it’s all about the money, I like money.'”

Ms. Kelly was transported to the Dukes County Jail in Edgartown. On later inspection, police said the bulk of the cocaine was wrapped in 1 and 3 gram amounts ready for distribution. “There was also a large chunk of solid base cocaine that had yet to be processed for distribution,” police said.

On the other side

Mr. LaBell, a member of the task force, had remained in Woods Hole. At about 3:15 pm he saw Mr. Bell arrive at the boatline terminal in a car with Georgia plates.

Mr. Bell walked into the Steamship ticket office. He left the office, got into his car and drove away. Sergeant Stone said police believe Mr. Bell learned of the arrest of Ms. Kelly.

Officer LaBell had arrived in Woods Hole by the Oak Bluffs fire-rescue boat and did not have a vehicle. With assistance from a State Police officer assigned to the Steamship terminal, officer LaBell pursued and stopped Mr. Bell.

Police arrested Mr. Bell, who did not have a driver’s license. He was transported back to the Vineyard aboard the Oak Bluffs fire-rescue boat.

No market, no drugs

Officer Snowden said the cooperation and understanding of the community is essential to combating drug dealers. He said that drug dealers would not travel to the Vineyard if there was not a market. “If they came here and they could not sell an ounce of cocaine or it took a month to sell an ounce, then they would not come,” he said.

Mr. Snowden said Ms. Kelly transported $30,000 worth of cocaine to the Island. “That’s $30,000 that could be put into the community. Instead, it’s being shipped off to Queens, New York.”

He said the latest arrest put a huge dent in an operation that police have targeted for many years. As the investigation progresses, he said, police will discover how much of a dent and the task force will maintain the pressure.

Mr. Snowden said he does not want people to think that the two people arrested are the only ones involved. “There are still a lot of other people that are out there who have been coming here that we are aware of,” he said.

Detective Snowden said police have made it known to Mr. Bell that they will do their best to keep him from taking advantage of young women to transport drugs. “We are not going to stop just because it’s quiet for a little while,” he said. “We are not going to let our guard down by any means.”

Detective Snowden can be reached at 508-627-4343, extension 22, Detective Sergeant Dolby at extension 15.