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Drug bust nets 24 arrests, cocaine, guns, cars
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

James Kuchta, DuMEG's deputy director, explains the hierarchy of an alleged cocaine trafficking operation in DuPage County. Police arrested 24 people and seized a cache of cocaine, seven guns and six cars in the three-month investigation that began in Wood Dale.


Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/2/2008 1:41 PM | Updated: 4/2/2008 9:11 PM

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A cocaine trafficking ring operating in DuPage County was dismantled after an intense undercover sting that relied heavily on old-fashioned shoe leather but also technology, authorities said Wednesday.

The police probe began three months ago with neighbors' complaints about the high amount of traffic in their east side Wood Dale neighborhood.

It ended with 24 arrests and the seizure of three pounds of cocaine, with a street value of $408,600, seven firearms and six cars. One of the guns had been reported stolen.

A task force of local, state, and federal officers took part in "Operation Scratch Off," a name derived from the main target's penchant for instant Lottery tickets.

"The investigation resulted in the take down of a major cocaine distribution organization based in DuPage County, with ties to Rockford and Chicago," said Tony Rapacz, director of the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group.

He added: "The ring, their suppliers and street-level dealers to whom they distributed, were all apprehended due to the hard work and cooperation of all the agencies involved."

The task force interviewed more than 100 witnesses, developed informants, executed search warrants, conducted surveillance, and obtained wiretaps to record hundreds of conversations. Officers also worked undercover while posing as cocaine buyers.

Detectives in Wood Dale began the probe in January while investigating neighbors' complaints about James E. Drugis, 33, who lived at 289 N. Catalpa Ave. After keeping the house under surveillance, detectives focused in on Santino Colella, 57, who often visited Drugis, and his wife, Elvira, 54, of Roselle.

Authorities alleged their main target, Santino Colella, purchased the powder cocaine from three suppliers, stored it at Drugis' "stash house," where it was mixed and packaged, and then used several dealers to distribute the drugs through streets sales that ranged from small $40 bags to larger quantities.

The first sweep of arrests came March 14 when undercover police officers executed three search warrants at homes in Roselle, Wood Dale and Oakbrook Terrace, where a relative of Colella's lived and kept many of his financial records.

Last week, a DuPage County grand jury indicted most of the defendants, from the alleged suppliers to low-level buyers. Authorities kept working the investigation through the weekend, when the final arrests were made.

The main targets remained Wednesday in the DuPage County jail. The co-defendants, except for Drugis, need $1 million cash for their release. Drugis must post $750,000 cash.

They include: Drugis, 33, 289 N. Catalpa, Wood Dale; Santino Colella, 57, 25 Whippoor Will Court, Roselle; his wife, Elvira Colella, 54; Alberto Flores, 31, Bensenville; Rigoberto Gomez, 32, Berwyn; and Gabriel Salgado-Laguna, 33, Chicago.

Police identified Colella's three suppliers as Flores, Gomez and Salgado-Laguna.

Other defendants identified include: Drugis' roommate, George S. Zakrzewski, 29, of Wood Dale; a neighbor, Victor Rios, 44, Wood Dale; David Leshinski, 41, address unknown; Carol L. Bottoms, 55, Glen Ellyn; Manuel Contreras, 23, Bensenville; Robert C. Hannum, 42, Villa Park; Frankie Folisi, 28, Glendale Heights; and Nicholas Gibbons, 23, address unknown.

Those accused of buying the cocaine are: Ann Whalen, 46, of Glen Ellyn; Lisa Bac-Vassar, 34, of Bensenville; Jorge Medina, 28, of Addison; Julio Irra, 23, of Addison; Alfredo Martinez, 34, of Addison; Arturo Enriguez, 30, of Addison; Tina Graziadei, 56, of Hoffman Estates; Gary M. Derrickson, 47, of Rockford; and Debra Hojnacki, 46, of Schaumburg; and Dennis Brown Jr. 43, address unknown.

"Most of the people … will not see the light of day for a long, long time," said DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett, who reported local drug prosecutions are at a record high. "This type of coordinated approach is good news because it's the only thing that we can do to keep the numbers down."

Besides DuMEG and Wood Dale, the task force included members of the U.S. Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Roselle Police Department, the DuPage County state's attorneys office and several other local police agencies.