Meth Trade Gets Rough

Is a new, more dangerous type of dealer emerging in New York City?

Joining the ranks of gay men who have been prosecuted for meth dealing in New York City, straight dealers who may carry weapons and have criminal records have become more visible in New York City’s meth trade.

“When I first got involved in this it was pretty much confined to the gay community… and they were not people who were involved in general criminal activity,” said Isabelle A. Kirshner, an attorney with the law firm Clayman and Rosenberg, who has represented between five and 10 defendants who were charged with meth dealing.

Typically, her gay clients had no criminal record and they had no weapons when they were arrested. Recently, two of her clients have been heterosexual men. Neither had a weapon at their arrest, but they were engaged in a “broader range of criminal activity” beyond alleged meth dealing.

“The last couple of cases I’ve had have been straight boys,” Kirshner said. “All of a sudden the cases I’ve had have been a different kind of individual involved.”

In a separate case that Kirshner is not involved with, the federal government indicted Justin Grauer, 25, of 25-81 44th Street in Queens, Michael Materasso, 23, of 205 Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, and five other people on meth dealing charges. Only one of those five is known to be gay.

Allegedly, Grauer had three pounds of meth in his possession at his March 15 arrest, a .22 caliber handgun, and three boxes of nine-millimeter bullets, which are too large to be used in a .22. Grauer is heterosexual and his girlfriend was one of those indicted with him.

According to an April 3 police department press release, Grauer has “17 prior arrests, including four felonies and 12 misdemeanors. His prior arrests include felony assault, weapons possession, resisting arrest, and narcotics charges.”

It is not known if Grauer is a meth user. His attorney, Raymond S. Sussman, did not respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment.

Materasso, also heterosexual, was arrested on March 16 allegedly in possession of seven ounces of crystal, a .45 caliber handgun, and a .22 caliber handgun. His girlfriend was arrested on March 16, but she has not been indicted in the case. Materasso was on probation stemming from prior narcotics charges, according to the police department press release.

Like many, if not all, of the gay men who have been prosecuted for meth dealing in New York City, Materasso was also a user.

Materasso had posted bail and was staying at his parent’s home in the Bronx. At an April 11 court hearing, Ronald L. Garnett, his attorney, said that Materasso had tested positive for meth on three required urine tests and had been returned to federal custody. Garnett declined comment.

The police department press release, which mainly concerned recent city legal actions against six nightclubs and a gym, also identified William Zamot, 37, of 125 64th Street in West New York, New Jersey, as a dealer who allegedly sold meth to an undercover detective on three occasions in 2005. The total value of the sales was just under $10,000. Those alleged sales took place at Steel Gym, whose owner David Boyer said Zamot is straight.

The police department said Zamot “has an extensive criminal record dating back to 1987.” That record includes just over two years served in a New Jersey prison for the 1998 sale of a controlled substance. He was arrested in New Jersey in 2003 for illegally distributing drugs. He received three years probation on that charge in October of 2005. He is currently facing federal charges for attempting to smuggle steroids into Puerto Rico from Venezuela this past March. He was released from federal custody on April 3 after posting bail and no charges have been filed against him for the alleged meth sales.

Whether these cases represent an aberration, the future of meth dealing in the city, or something that has been constant, but is only being noticed now is entirely unclear. Certainly they depart from what many people thought New York City’s meth trade looked like—gay men selling to gay men.

“It looks like the majority of the cases in federal court in Manhattan have been centered in some way in the gay community,” said Steven Statsinger, an attorney with the Federal Defenders of New York, the U.S. government public defender office. “It’s hard to know whether that’s based on some law enforcement bias or whether that’s where the activity is centered.”

Statsinger has handled three meth cases and knows of a number of others. None has involved guns.

“I’m aware of lots of these cases,” he said. “I have never known anyone to have a gun.”

The police department, which is part of an anti-meth task force along with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), did not respond to a request for comment. The DEA does not keep statistics on gun seizures that are associated with a particular drug, according to Erin Mulvey, spokesperson for the DEA’s New York Field Division, but the city is seeing more crystal.

“We’ve been seeing an increase in methamphetamine distribution in New York City,” Mulvey said.

Much of that crystal is coming from so called super labs that can manufacture 10 pounds or more of high purity crystal in a 24-hour production cycle. Those labs are typically associated with organized crime groups in Mexico. With those groups, the farther up the supply chain one travels, the more violent the business becomes.

“It’s safe to say that drugs and violence go hand in hand,” Mulvey said.

Bruce Kellerhouse who, with Dan Carlson, founded the HIV Forum that produced a series of town meetings on gay men, HIV, and drugs, said this could represent just one more danger associated with crystal.

“Meth dealing on a large scale is increasing in New York City and it may come under the control of those who have criminal and drug use histories,” he said. “Gay men need to understand that the dangers of using meth come from multiple sources, from meth itself and possibly from those who sell them the drugs.”