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No 'relaxation' in cracking down on pot

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 30. 2014 9:15PM
Manchester Police Chief David J. Mara, right, and Assistant Chief Nick Willard stand next to a photo of items seized after a year-long investigation of a drug ring that authorities said brought massive amounts of marijuana into the United States from Canada. (BRUCE PRESTON / UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Alkis Nakos and Kosmas Koustas grew up together in Manchester. They were friends with roots in the city’s thriving Greek community. The long-term friends turned business partners are now accused of running the New Hampshire arm of a North American drug ring that smuggled large shipments of high-grade marijuana here from Canada.

Nakos, 35, of 366 Arah St., Manchester, and Koustas, 35, of 1465 Hooksett Road, Hooksett, are among 10 Manchester-area men arrested and charged last week with participating in the drug trafficking conspiracy that brought an estimated 100 to 200 pounds of marijuana and other illicit drugs to the Granite State each week. Four others remain at large.

The arrests follow a year-long investigation and resulted in the seizure of about 30 pounds of marijuana, $85,000 in cash, money-counting machines and other drug paraphernalia, and numerous firearms, including a machine gun with a silencer allegedly seized from the Manchester home of Kristopher Venturini, 35, a federal prosecutor said.

Also seized were two pounds of MDMA, a drug known by its street name “Molly,” during a raid on Koustas’ home. The ring also dealt in cocaine and, to a lesser degree, oxycodone, but its primary business was marijuana, federal authorities allege.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Feith estimated the ring’s earnings likely “exceeded $1 million just in the quantities (of drugs) we seized.”

“We intend to attack organized drug distribution rings and to bring them to justice as best we can. If you think you can continue in the distribution of marijuana just because there is some relaxation about marijuana, you have to think twice,” Feith said at a media conference while flanked by federal agents, state and local police involved in the probe.

All 10 men were arrested on a federal complaint.

The government has 30 days to bring its case before a federal grand jury for possible indictment, Feith said.

The charges against Nakos relate to the last six months only, during which authorities intercepted four alleged drug-related telephone calls between Nakos and Koustas.

But New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Jennifer MacKenzie testified investigators never actually found Nakos with “drugs in hand.”

“He utilized Mr. Koustas to quote-unquote do the dirty work,” MacKenzie said.

When investigators got a tip after the 2009 raid that Koustas worked at Amory House of Pizza in Manchester, they kept it under steady surveillance, MacKenzie said.

“We’ve never seen a pizza come out of that operation,” she testified.

Through wiretaps, search warrants, cooperating witnesses and surveillance, investigators allegedly learned that Koustas picked up marijuana in Millbury, Mass., at least twice last December and brought it back to New Hampshire for distribution, she said.

During one trip to Millbury, authorities observed a Canadian woman who works for Bank Montreal pull up in a rental car, MacKenzie said.

Nakos and Koustas are accused of coordinating large shipments of marijuana into New Hampshire from Canada via Vermont, New York and Massachusetts, overseeing its distribution to lower-level dealers and collecting cash proceeds, which specially designated couriers transported to California to buy more drugs, federal officials allege.

Both are charged with conspiring to distribute controlled drugs, distribution of controlled drugs and using a communication facility to distribute the drugs.

Also charged in the complaint are: Charles Fowle, 35, of 267 Waverly St., Hooksett; his brother, Frank Fowle, 36, of 330 Milford St., Manchester; Christopher Ranfos, 36, of 241 Boutwell Rd., Manchester; Kristopher Venturini, 35, of 374 Thornton St., Manchester; Marc Guillemette, 37, of 255 Waverly St., Manchester; John Horne Jr., 32, of 301 Prescott St., Epping; Jonathan Venturini, 32, of 516 Notre Dame Ave., Manchester; and Jonathan Handschumaker, whose address and age were not immediately available.

They face various drug conspiracy and distribution charges and using communication facilities to promote illicit drug trade.

Ranfos and Horne have been released, Feith said. The others have been detained or will face detention hearings this month.

A muscular, bearded Nakos sat through a more than two-hour preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court Monday where authorities described a multi-state drug trafficking operation in which top-level dealers relied on dozens of throw-away cell phones to insulate themselves from lowel-level operators and the cadre of employees who held specialized roles — often unaware of their co-workers’ identities.

U.S. District Court Judge Andrea K. Johnstone found probable cause to support charges against Nakos and ordered him detained pending further proceedings.

A detention hearing for Koustas will be held today.

In her testimony, MacKenzie detailed how officials learned of the drug ring following a search warrant executed in Vermont in 2009.

Marijuana flowed into Canada and, from there, was smuggled through Vermont, upstate New York and northern New Hampshire to Massachusetts.

From there, Nakos and Koustas allegedly oversaw shipments to New Hampshire.

Feith would not discuss efforts to trace the alleged drug operation to its source or potential ringleaders in other states, saying only: “It is always our goal to move up the chain of command.”

The investigation remains active, he said.

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