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Local ties cited in drug bust affidavit

Ex-officer among 18 facing charges

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / May 29, 2011

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Members of a drug ring allegedly stashed marijuana and thousands of dollars in drug money and discussed drug deals in homes in Watertown, Waltham, Stoneham, Cambridge, and Boylston, according to a federal affidavit that built the case against a former Watertown police officer and 17 other people indicted last week.

Federal investigators used wiretaps and pole-mounted cameras to conduct surveillance on suspected drug dealers and their alleged accomplices since last year, tracking them to the Newton Marriott, a Dunkin’ Donuts on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown, the Mass. Pike service plaza in Framingham, and several other locations in area communities, the 80-page affidavit says.

At one point last June, federal agents and Watertown police stopped a black Mercedes near Summer Street and Waverley Avenue and discovered $70,000 in a shoe box inside a duffle bag on the floor of the car, according to the affida vit, which said the money was in $10,000 bundles. In an instance about a month ago, investigators said they saw two suspects arrange to deliver 40 pounds of marijuana from an Oakley Road home in Watertown.

One single-family home in Waltham that was allegedly used to store large amounts of drugs and cash is near a sports field, wading pool, and playground.

“Of course, I am alarmed by the allegations that illegal drugs were found so close to a playground where children are present, and in such a peaceful neighborhood like Lowell Field,’’ said Waltham City Councilor Gary Marchese.

“Unfortunately, this case reminds us that the distribution and use of illegal drugs is not isolated to inner-city neighborhoods but can be found anywhere,’’ he said.

The federal case began in February 2010 with an investigation into a drug-smuggling ring that was bringing marijuana from Canada to warehouses in Andover and Rhode Island, among other locations. Agents have been staking out suspects in Watertown and other area communities since April 2010, federal records show.

Wiretaps revealed the suspects discussing hundred of thousands of dollars in alleged drug money and the distribution of marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine, and Percocet, a prescription painkiller. One of the defendants owns a Roxbury convenience store where last October a mother of four was gunned down.

A federal agent’s affidavit indicates that Watertown was a main hub for Safwan “Sammy’’ Madarati, 36, who was arraigned Thursday in Boston and is being held until a July 6 hearing. On Friday, Watertown’s police chief said Madarati attempted to befriend police officers and town residents.

Authorities say Madarati pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, cocaine, and oxycodone; extortion; conspiracy to commit fraud; maintain a place for drug purposes; and money laundering.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz is prosecuting the case.

Madarati’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Madarati and his wife own a single-family house at 185 Warren St. in Watertown, according to public records. The home is in a neighborhood of modest split-level ranches and Capes, about a quarter-mile from Watertown’s Cunniff Elementary School.

Another associate lived nearby on Warren Street, right over the Waltham line. And at 10 Oakley Road in Watertown, Madarati’s associate and codefendant Vartan Soukiasian, 35, allegedly stored and distributed large quantities of marijuana and other drugs, the affidavit states.

Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau said that although drugs were stored in Watertown, they were typically distributed throughout Greater Boston for street-level dealing.

The drugs “were quickly passed on to other area dealers in fairly large-sized quantities,’’ he said. The local homes weren’t magnets for drug addicts or frequent visitors, he said.

Soukiasian is listed in the affidavit as the owner of After Hours Auto & Transport at 1191 Washington St. in Newton. Another defendant, Hagop “Jack’’ Sarkissian, 46, of Weston, owns Newton Automotive Services at 249 Centre St. in Newton, the affidavit says.

According to the affidavit, agents believe Madarati had Sarkissian threaten a man if the man didn’t pay a drug debt. Sarkissian is charged with extortion and conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, cocaine, and oxycodone.

Both Soukiasian and Sarkissian answered the phone at their respective businesses on Wednesday, and both declined to comment.

The indictment lists all of the property seized during the case, including more than $3.6 million in cash and from bank accounts; $364,000 worth of gold bars found in Cambridge on April 20; and eight vehicles, including three Mercedes-Benz models.

At Hanscom Field in Bedford in October, State Police seized nearly $1.8 million in cash packed into two suitcases from two men whose names were redacted from the federal affidavit.

Authorities believe the men had made a midafternoon trip to the Boston Marriott in Newton to pick up the drug proceeds from Madarati and Soukiasian.

The indictment alleges that Madarati “used his personal connections with members of the Watertown Police Department,’’ including then-Watertown police officer Roberto Velasquez-Johnson, “to obtain information about law enforcement activity in order to impede and obstruct investigations into his drug trafficking activities in Watertown.’’

Velasquez-Johnson is also accused of giving the address of two police officers to Madarati so he could intimidate them.

The former police officer’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement Friday, Deveau said “we are confident that former police officer Robert Valesquez-Johnson is the only law enforcement person implicated in the investigation.’’

Noting that Watertown is a “small, diverse community,’’ the police chief provided new details about the relationship.

“Madarati operated a plumbing business in town and actively sought out members of the Police Department and other Watertown residents with the purpose and intention of befriending them,’’ Deveau said.

“The men and women of the Watertown Police Department work extremely hard every day to earn public trust, and I know our community will judge us on our performance and not the actions of a disgraced former police officer,’’ the chief said in his statement Friday.

Ten people have been charged with conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, cocaine, and oxycodone: Madarati; Soukiasian; Sarkissian; Antranic Idanjian, 45, of Waltham; Robert Johnson, 21, of Stoneham; Sanusie Mo Kabba, 26, of Stoughton; Jeffrey Spinks, 53, of Boylston; Karapet Dzhanikyan, 31, of Watertown; Victor Loukas, 43, of Watertown; and Manuel Khandjian, 36, of Los Angeles. All the defendants are due in court for a July 6 hearing.

Mo Kabba’s Quick Mart in Roxbury made headlines in October when a man wielding an assault rifle sprayed bullets in the store, killing Tahitia Milton, 39, a mother of four. Mo Kabba, who was wounded, was believed to be the killer’s target, police said at the time.

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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