Feds raid Kearny Avenue rooming house

KEARNY – Until last Monday, March 20, Chukwuemeka (AKA Emeka) Okparaeke was living in a studio apartment in a rooming house at Kearny Ave. and Halstead St.

Today, the 28-year-old man occupies a cell at the Westchester (N.Y.) County Jail, awaiting arraignment on a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute large quantities of an analogue of fentanyl.

The federal investigation focuses on the period from October 2016 to March 2017.

Fentanyl and its analogues are characterized by federal agents as “synthetic opioids that are significantly stronger than heroin, and are major contributors to overdose fatalities.”

In a press release, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim, of the Southern District of New York, said: “The defendant’s alleged scheme combined one of the gravest current threats to public health – highly addictive and potentially lethal opioids – with a very modern criminal tool – the darknet.

“Okparaeke allegedly sold fentanyl-like controlled substances through an online black market to conceal the nature of the transactions and his identity. I want to thank our partners at the U.S. Postal Service for bringing Okparaeke’s alleged criminal exploitation out of the dark.”

Also involved in the case were the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General in Virginia and the Middletown (N.Y.) Police Department.

Emily Tarrats, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service’s New York Division of Inspection Services, told The Observer that Okparaeke had been arrested in Kearny on March 20 for his involvement in the receiving and trafficking of fentanyl analogues and for using the Postal Service as an avenue to move the substance.

Tarrats said that the Kearny location where the suspect was apprehended was believed to be “one of the locations he was associated with.”

The release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office further alleged that, as part of the conspiracy, the suspect received the illegal drug packages “from suppliers abroad, repackaged the analogues into smaller quantities, and shipped them to customers using post offices throughout the New York-New Jersey area.”

To communicate with customers and coordinate sales, the suspect – according to the release – used an online marketplace on the “darknet,” which is “accessible only through a special software program that allows users to mask their identity through a process of encryption and decryption between numerous peer-to-peer connections.

“[The suspect] used extensive measures to conceal his identity, including measures to encrypt his internet traffic and communications sent from his cell phone. Under an alter ego, he boasted about his exploits as a darknet drug trafficker online, where he also posted a short story detailing his criminal activities and his success at evading law enforcement.”

Nonetheless, attorney Susanne Brody of the Federal Defenders for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, who is representing Okparaeke, said she expects her client to enter a not guilty plea.

Brody told The Observer that Okparaeke is a U.S. citizen, “born in Newark,” and is a “student, working on a medical degree and doing a residency with a doctor” whom she did not name.

She said she’s working with two of the suspect’s family members to arrange for bail.

The complaint against Okparaeke is being prosecuted by the White Plains, N.Y., Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Asst. U.S. Attorney Gillian Grossman has been assigned the case.

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