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Busted N.Y. pill pushers hail from all walks of life

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 6:32 p.m.
 

NEW YORK — The Craigslist ad offered black-market Percocet pills for sale but warned potential customers: “No LE please.” Meaning: No law enforcement.

Like that made a difference.

The 40-year-old man accused of placing the ad was among 21 people arrested in an attempt by the New York Police Department to make an example out of some of the smallest of small-time drug dealers: students, young professionals and others who clean out the medicine cabinet and then are brazen enough — and foolish enough — to offer the pills for up to $20 a pop over the Internet.

“Whether the drug deal occurs on the street corner or on the Internet, it's a crime,” Bridget Brennan, special narcotics prosecutor for New York City, said on Thursday in a statement announcing the arrests.

Undercover narcotics investigators answered the ads and ended up buying handfuls of powerful prescription painkillers and other pills for a few hundred dollars, typically in broad daylight and in public settings such as coffee shops, Penn Station or Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Some of the sellers turned out to be run-of-the mill drug dealers also peddling cocaine and heroin, police said. But many were more mainstream: Among those arrested were a New York University graduate student, a financial adviser and a 62-year-old woman who works as a freelance photographer.

The pills came from the sellers' own medications or were stolen from relatives, friends and co-workers, authorities said. Some of the dealers were out to make a quick buck — even though their backgrounds would suggest they didn't need the money.

The arrests occur as law enforcement agencies around the country battle a surge in illegal sales of highly addictive painkillers such as Percocet and Roxycodone and, increasingly, attention-deficit drugs such as Adderall — transactions that rival the cocaine and heroin trade both in volume and as a public health hazard.

Because the drugs have legal medical uses, they carry less of a stigma than illegal narcotics. After they were arrested, some of the sellers claimed they didn't know what they were doing was a crime. But investigators don't buy it.

“You'd have to be living under a rock to not know it's illegal,” Brennan said.

Despite the enforcement effort, the advertising continued unabated on Thursday.

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