Earlier this month, police arrived at the home of the Schirripa family on Cox Neck Road in Mattituck, a sleepy town on the North Fork of Long Island due north of the Hamptons. The two-decker house is painted a fresh white, and a welcome wreath with a plush bunny rabbit holding a garden hoe hangs from the door. The only thing out of place was an open bag of plant fertilizer stashed behind an unfinished Adirondack chair on the porch.
The officers ascended to the second floor and entered the bedroom of Katie Schirripa, a blond 21-year-old who lives in the house with her parents. A Sopranos poster dangles near the dresser, which the police opened straightaway. In one of the drawers, where most girls would perhaps keep their underwear, the police discovered 56 bags of heroin packaged in wax paper bags stamped with names like “Google” and “Privilege.”
Authorities fret that a growing local heroin problem, combined with recent improvements in the economy, could yield a narcotics epidemic.
Ms. Schirripa, a former cheerleader at Mattituck Junior/Senior High School, is a key character in an investigation that produced the biggest drug bust in Hamptons history. Shawn Petretti, Ms. Schirripa’s former principal, described her as “a very popular girl with good relationships with faculty and staff.” A former classmate said she was “one of those people who always spends time with their family.” But according to investigators, Katie Schirripa was also a central cog in a massive drug-distribution ring that trafficked millions of dollars in heroin from Ridgewood, Queens, to the Hamptons and other towns on the East End.
The bust, by the East End Drug Task Force, was the culmination of a nine-month undercover operation-a deftly choreographed ballet involving wiretaps, undercover drug deals and, finally, eight search warrants resulting in 20 arrests of suspected dealers, including Ms. Schirripa, and the seizure of 4,430 bags of heroin, 5.6 ounces of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia and $173,000 in cash.
At the time, the bust produced little in the way of publicity. But in the run-up to the Memorial Day weekend, cops across the East End are pointing to it as part of an expected crackdown timed to coincide with the arrival en masse of the region’s tony seasonal population. Recreational drug use has always been a fixture of Hamptons life (see sidebar). But this year, authorities fret that a growing local heroin problem, combined with recent improvements in the economy, could yield a narcotics epidemic. “The timing was such that we could make the bust preempting the beginning of the summer season,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst told The Observer.
In one sense, the cops are lucky: In terms of a deterrent, it doesn’t get much better than Katie Schirripa.
IN MIDDLE SCHOOL, Ms. Schirripa was a striking girl, with long legs and blond hair that bounced off her shoulders when she turned her head. She made the cheerleading team in junior high but dropped out after her freshman year. As she got older, Ms. Schirripa’s looks faded, her face taking on an unhealthy pallor. By senior year, her complexion had turned gray, her once attractive square jaw had become hard and graceless and, friends say, she had developed a full-blown heroin addiction.
Ms. Schirripa hung out with the older guys in high school. After graduation, she started dating Michael Maffetone, six years her senior. Mr. Maffetone is round and bearish with the mischievous look of a young boy who has stolen a cookie. Described by Mr. Petretti as “a very good-natured kid” and cheerful, he was also a heroin addict, authorities allege. His narcotics-related rap sheet begins with an arrest one year ago on drug-related charges. When he was arrested most recently, on May 6, authorities found a hypodermic needle at his residence.
Neither Ms. Schirripa nor Mr. Maffetone owned a car; their version of the Bonnie-and-Clyde routine saw them hustling rides to the city anyway they could, at times offering up to 10 bags of heroin as compensation.
Once they got off the Long Island Expressway, the couple would make their way to 1932 Palmetto Street, a leafy suburban address in Ridgewood, Queens. The house they visited was a hub of sorts. Their connection, Juan Pabon, a Colombian-born 41-year-old with a goatee out of The Three Musketeers, had established a precisely calibrated network for the distribution of heroin, according to the East End Task Force. Until his recent arrest, authorities said Mr. Pabon, who was on parole for previous drug convictions, would receive heroin refined from opium poppies grown in Colombia and smuggled into the New York City area in myriad ways-inside packages of red kidney beans resealed in their original cellophane wrappers; inside the beads of beaded beach bags; or chemically impregnated into plastic and then removed after safe arrival through a chemical extraction process.
The heroin was cut and diluted before packaging it in glassines stamped in purple with various names targeted at different demographics. Mr. Pabon’s labels were known for their high quality and were also more expensive, Google and Privilege coming at the top of the line; True Religion and Hell on Earth were middle of the road. Privilege and Prada were for women. A bag sells for $10 to $20 on the street, depending on the quality of the label and the dealer’s mood.
“What girl doesn’t want something from Prada?” one law enforcement agent asked.
Ms. Schirripa and Mr. Maffetone would buy from Mr. Pabon by the sleeve, a hundred bags for a total of $450 to $600, according to police. With up to 1,000 bags of prepackaged heroin stashed in their backpacks, Ms. Schirripa and Mr. Maffetone would head back to Mattituck, either hitching a ride with the same driver who brought them west into the city, or enticing someone else with the promise of Privilege.
Police say that Ms. Schirripa then delivered the bundle of heroin to a well-established heroin dealer on the East End who lacked Ms. Schirripa’s Queens connections. From there, it wound its way through a bronchial system of micro-dealers in the Hamptons and other East End towns.
THE DAY AFTER the bust at Ms. Schirripa’s house, District Attorney Thomas Spota heralded it as a preemptive attack on drugs in the Hamptons. “For those drug dealers who think they can come to the East End of Long Island this summer and peddle their poison, I have a message for them: that law enforcement will be waiting,” he said.
Mr. Spota looks nothing like Eliot Ness. White-haired with a slight paunch, he leads with a tough-guy rhetoric that has more in common with Al Capone. On May 12, he held a press conference in Riverhead, where he displayed the bounty from the eight home searches executed two days before. The contraband was artfully arranged on long tables with faux-wood finish. Twenty- and hundred-dollar bills were dramatically fanned out next to rubber-banded bundles of heroin, 10 bags each. Sitting next to two open laptops on the evidence table was a dirty Pyrex cooking dish encrusted with what looked like dried pancake batter (this was crack cocaine, found cooking on the stove at the time of the police raid).
The majority of the money was seized at the Coram, Long Island, home of 34-year-old Shawn Badgett, a delivery person like Ms. Schirripa. It was $150,000 cash, secreted away for a drug-laced Easter egg hunt: $19,310 on the floor of the bedroom, almost $16,000 tucked under the night stand; another $19,000 in the (extremely large) pocket of a pair of jeans hanging in the closet; $3,800 stashed under insulation boards in the attic; more than $3,000 strewn about the office amid scales, bags and other drug paraphernalia; and an additional $90,000 traced to Mr. Badgett’s safe deposit box. Despite the brand-new $10,000 motorcycle in the garage and an SUV with custom snakeskin leather interior and tricked-out rims, Mr. Badgett clearly wasn’t spending his cash fast enough.
That morning, Mr. Spota summarized the efforts of the task force he oversees, a composite of local law enforcement agencies committed to combating Suffolk County’s growing drug epidemic aggressively. “Since October of last year, this enforcement effort focused on heroin traffic between various locations in New York City and the east end of Suffolk County, bringing approximately 125,000 bags of heroin worth nearly three million dollars to the East End this year.”
And it’s not over-there will be further undercover operations in the coming months at clubs and bars. Southampton has added two officers to the East End Drug Task Force to focus specifically on special clandestine operations, with the goal of bringing down other rings and reining in drug use of both local and seasonal populations.
“A number of our town police officers,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, “approached me saying that we were not sufficiently staffed and didn’t have the kind of equipment to deal with this problem, which has really escalated.”
Said Mr. Spota, “This is just an opening salvo, we are not going to go away … especially this summer.”