Large Scale Narcotics Pill Manufacturing Operation Dismantled in Highbridge, Bronx

Highbridge is a residential neighborhood located in the central-west section of the Bronx, in New York City. Prior to the 1960s, Highbridge was predominantly Irish American. Today the vast majority of residents are Dominican, Puerto Rican and African American. About 35% of the families there live below the federal poverty line.

Highbridge, Bronx
The Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx, New York

Bridget G. Brennan, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in New York City, Ray Donovan, the Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New York Division, and New York City Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea have announced the arrests of two men in connection with an alleged narcotics pill production and distribution operation based in Highbridge.

A surveillance operation that centered on defendant Jeison Lebron, an alleged drug manufacturer and distributor, led investigators with the Overdose Squad of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Narcotics Borough Brooklyn South, DEA Group D-24, and the NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Investigators Unit to uncover a basement pill manufacturing operation at 136 W. 170th Street in Highbridge, on the night of June 19.

Agents conducting a court authorized search discovered that the basement drug laboratory was outfitted with three industrial pill press machines, which are used to form counterfeit pills from illicit drugs. Approximately 1.2 kilograms of heroin were seized during the search, as well as 34 grams of fentanyl and approximately 2.3 kilograms of methamphetamine. That find included about one pound of crystal meth and 1,600 blue methamphetamine pills. Agents made a surprise discovery of 30 to 50 roosters and chickens of a breed believed to be used in cockfighting.

A criminal complaint filed by the NYC Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor on June 20 charges Lebron and defendant Alfredo Goris with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the First, Second and Third Degrees, and Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia in the Second Degree.

In events leading up to the search, agents learned on June 17 that three suspicious packages weighing more than 280 pounds, purported to contain “roll-forming machines,” or pill presses, which originated in China were addressed to 626 10th Street, Apartment 5, in Union City, New Jersey.

pill press
One of the three industrial pill presses seized at the location. The photo is from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

On June 17 and June 18, agents and officers observed as Jeison Lebron accepted delivery of those packages at 626 10th Street, Apartment 5, in Union City, and brought them into the residence with hand trucks. Lebron subsequently loaded a heavy blue barrel into the back of a grey Acura. Surveillance teams followed the Acura as he drove it back to New York City.

Agents and officers tracked Lebron to 136 W. 170th Street, a five-story brick apartment building in Highbridge. On June 17 and June 18, agents reviewed outdoor surveillance video footage of the apartment building cellar door. Surveillance teams observed as the video showed Lebron and Goris entering with heavy bags and suitcases. Video footage recorded on June 19, at approximately 4:20 p.m., showed Lebron and Goris bringing additional plastic bags into the same location.

At approximately 10 p.m. on June 19, Lebron and Goris were detained as they exited the building at 136 West 170th Street. The NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office assisted in obtaining a court authorized search warrant for the basement at that location.

Agents and investigators recovered the narcotics described above plus three industrial pill presses. Other drug paraphernalia seized during the search included unused glassine envelopes, Ziploc bags, scales, packaging materials, and dilutants used for mixing narcotics or stimulants.

Counterfeit pills pressed from illicit drugs have been linked to overdose deaths nationwide, most notably when fentanyl is part of the mixture. Total numbers of seizures of illicitly produced pills began to surge in New York City in 2018. The defendants in this case have not been charged in connection with any overdose deaths.

Subsequent to the execution of the search, Lebron and Goris were arrested and arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court. Goris was released without bail. Lebron was held in custody to appear for a bail hearing related to a prior case at the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Observed DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan: Over the weekend, two people were charged for their role in a pill pressing scheme that had the capability to produce mass quantities of synthetic drug-filled capsules. This operation was a ticking time bomb with the capability of highly dangerous controlled substances distributed to unsuspecting users, increasing the risk of overdoses and fatalities. I applaud Group D-24 and our partners at the New York City Police Department and the New York City Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for their diligent investigation.