By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO -- The second of two drug kingpins accused of flooding the Falls with cocaine and pot has pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge in a deal with federal prosecutors.
Harry Hinks entered his plea during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Buffalo. His plea to a single count of conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana and cocaine means Hinks faces a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of $8 million.
However, a plea agreement between Hinks and prosecutors pegs his likely sentence, under federal guidelines, at between 10 and 10- 1/2 years behind bars and a fine in the range of $12,500.
Hinks also agreed to forfeit $774,000 in cash and property seized during the course of the investigation into the drug ring he controlled along with fellow kingpin Dennis Berard.
For Hinks and Berard, it was pot from the provinces and coke from the cartels. The pair imported, from Canada, between 20 and 30 kilos of marijuana into the Falls every two weeks. At the same time they pumped multiple kilos of Mexican cartel cocaine into the city as well.
It all came to an end in April 2011, when Falls Police narcotics detectives and federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations took the drug ring down with a raid on Hink's hub of operations inside the old Amato's Bar on Ferry Avenue. That raid netted investigators 14 pounds of pot, three-and-a-half kilograms of cocaine and over $64,000 from Hinks and Berard.
A little more than two months later, local narcotics detectives and federal agents arrested six other suspects in Niagara County, a suspected cocaine supplier from Buffalo and two marijuana suppliers in the Massena, N.Y. area.
As a result of those arrests and raids, officers and agents seized marijuana and broke up a pot growing operation in a home in the 3200 block of North Avenue, recovering 13 long guns and more than a thousand rounds of ammunition from a home on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, two handguns from a home in Buffalo and another 13 long guns, including three assault rifles from residences in the Massena area.
The investigation began in October 2009, when "street sources" told Falls narcotics detectives that Hinks had been released from prison on an earlier drug conviction and "was living over the old Amato’s Bar (2007 Ferry Ave.) and dealing coke and marijuana."
Federal agents got involved when Falls police investigators discovered Hinks and Berard where actually smuggling their marijuana in from Canada and their cocaine from South American through Mexico.
At the time of Hinks arrest, Narcotics Detectives Jay Reynolds and Joe Giaquinto, who spearheaded the investigation, said he had turned his Ferry Avenue home into a fortress.
“He put a fence around the property and installed video surveillance outside,” Reynolds said.
The detectives said Hinks was also engaged in other criminal activity.
“He was distributing guns and stolen property,” Giaquinto said. “He would also host private parties (in the bar area of the building).”
As part of his plea deal, Hinks also agreed that he will cooperate with federal agents looking into his Canadian and Mexican drug connections. He is scheduled to be sentenced in March.