BUFFALO — A Falls man has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Buffalo to trafficking cocaine in the Cataract City.
Dante Dolson, 51, pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute, and distributing, five kilograms or more of cocaine before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara. The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years in prison, a maximum penalty of life, and a $20 million fine.
Federal prosecutors said that between between December 2016, and August 2017, Dolson conspired with others to sell cocaine in both the Falls and Buffalo. On at least four separate occasions, Dolson is accused of coordinating the transportation of 10 kilograms of cocaine for distribution in the Western New York region.
Falls Police narcotics detectives said Dolson's arrest was the result of a more than year-long investigation. Working with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Falls detectives said they played "a cat and mouse game" with Dolson and his associates.
On Aug. 24, 2017, they sprung their trap, making what was, at that time, the largest cocaine seizure ever in the Falls. They also arrested Dolson and two other men.
DEA agents, detectives with the Falls Police Narcotics Intelligence Division and officers with the Falls Police Emergency Response Team executed a search warrant at the home of Dolson’s aunt, in the 2200 block of Independence Avenue. In addition to the home, they also targeted a detached garage behind the house.
Inside the garage, they found Dolson, who was then living in Arlington, Texas, along with Giavoni E. Veal, 26, 712 Port Richmond Way, Arlington, Texas, and Kenneth U. Beard, 29, 5 Barbara Circle, Little Rock, Arkansas. The three men appeared to be working on a Honda Odyssey minivan, with Arkansas license plates.
The agents had caught the three men in the act of reassembling a hidden compartment underneath the hood of the vehicle. Lying on a couch, next to the minivan, were five full bricks and two half bricks of plastic wrapped cocaine, weighing-in at six kilograms.
The street value of the seized cocaine was estimated at that time as more than $500,000.
Agents and detectives also seized a money-counting machine and a food saver with shrink wrap (used to wrap large quantities of drugs). Investigators recovered about $5,000 in cash.
Detectives said Dolson, who had been involved in the drug trade in the Falls before moving to Texas, popped onto their radar in 2016. They said intelligence gathering indicated that he was involved in moving large quantities of cocaine and heroin from Texas to the Falls.
Agents and detectives began tracking Dolson, but even with hours of surveillance and the use of sophisticated tracking measures, investigators were not able to get information on Dolson's dealing in “real time.”
Then, in December 2016, a law enforcement drug interdiction team, operating in Mississippi, stopped Dolson. He was driving a car that had what was described as a “hidden compartment of the type that is commonly used by high-level narcotics trafficking organizations.”
It’s believed that Dolson, at that time, was transporting Mexican cartel cocaine.
A search of his vehicle led to the discovery of a hidden compartment. Inside, the compartment, investigators discovered $287,050, wrapped in plastic and heat-sealed and about 3.25 pounds of opiates. Another $9,000 was found inside the glove box of the car.
Dolson was arrested on a charge of intent to distribute in excess of 200 grams of heroin. Law enforcement sources told the Gazette that the next day, Dolson posted $100,000 bail, in cash, and was freed.
Falls police said as soon as Dolson was out, he resumed transporting large quantities of cocaine and heroin from Texas to the Falls and Buffalo several times a month.
Investigators said Dolson would use multiple vehicles with Texas and Arkansas license plates, all equipped with what they said were extremely sophisticated “trap compartments” to transport drugs and money. The “traps” were contained in the engine compartment of the vehicles, and concealed behind a plastic shield underneath the wiper area.
Using tracking measures that involved multiple state and federal law enforcement agencies, the investigators were able to determine that Dolson was directing those vehicles to the Independence Avenue garage.
Once the vehicles were inside the garage, Dolson would disassemble them to access the trap compartments and remove the drugs. He would then place cash from the drug sales back in the compartments to be sent back to Texas.
“It was really hard to coordinate,” one investigator said. “Sometimes we’d know a vehicle was in the garage, but we didn’t know if the drugs had already walked out the front door of the house.”
At the Aug. 24, 2017 raid, everything came together investigators tracked Dolson’s minivan to the Independence Avenue garage and ERT officers hit the location shortly after the van arrived.
“This was absolutely a high-level operation,” then Falls Police Narcotics Investigation Division commander Capt. Ted Weed said.