City drug bust nets convicted drug dealer, large drug cache (Exclusive crime scene photos included)

Police seized 36 grams of crack cocaine, 48 bags of heroin and about $1,000 in cash Wednesday, arresting a man for drug dealing at the Econo Lodge on Church Street/SARAH BULLOCK 


In one of the largest drug busts in decades, city police rearrested a convicted drug dealer Wednesday for selling cocaine and heroin out of the Church Street Econo Lodge while he awaited his sentencing in County Court.

With a search warrant in hand, officers stormed the motel room of Thomas P. Martinez, 54, seizing 36 grams of crack cocaine, 48 bags of heroin and about $1,000 in cash, according to the Cortland Police Department.

“It’s more crack cocaine then I’ve seen a single person possess in a long time,” said Lt. Michael Strangeway, the city’s former liaison in its federal Drug Enforcement Administration partnership.

Strangeway noted that a typical drug purchase is a gram of crack cocaine for $100. That would mean Martinez could sell 36 packets of cocaine for a total of $3,600.

Each of the 48 bags of heroin could be sold in Cortland for between $15 and $20, Strangeway said, noting that’s at least triple the price of drugs in Syracuse. Drug dealers raise the prices for transporting it to Cortland from Syracuse, he stated.

“As far as heroin, someone may buy one bag, someone may buy 10 bags,” said Strangeway, referring to the cache seized at the Econo Lodge. “I would value that at about $900.”


Under surveillance

City officers started surveilling Martinez’s motel room after receiving a tip he was selling drugs there, said Strangeway. Members of the Cortland County Drug Task Force, including Cortland County Sheriff’s Office and state police, assisted with the surveillance and the search warrant, he said.

During one half-hour of surveillance, Martinez made five suspected drug sales, said Strangeway. Two more suspected sales were made the next day, he added.

“It was a very busy spot,” said Strangeway, adding officers recognized known drug addicts were frequenting his room.

Officers surprised Martinez, breaking through the door of his 108 motel room, at about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, he said. Martinez was arrested without incident, while a woman also inside the room was released without charges, said Strangeway.

In addition to the crack cocaine stored in a zippered pencil case, officers seized electronic scales, a metal weight used to weigh out grams and wax packaging bags with the stamped “brand” name of “Election 2020.”

Stamped wax bags are used by large drug trafficking organizations as a way of distinguishing their heroin from other types, said Strangeway. The organizations are based in large metropolitan areas, and smuggle in drugs from China and Mexico, he said.

The heroin is also likely laced with fentanyl, said Strangeway. “Most heroin is now to some extent,” he said.

Officers have seen a 200 percent increase in overdose deaths since 2018, according to police statistics. As of September, 21 city residents died of overdoses, while seven died in all of 2018.

Heroin branded “Election 2020” is the sixth brand city police have reported uncovering since September. The others were: “Smile,” “Banger,” “Krave,” “Spiderman,” and “Monster High.”

Strangeway said in September the increasing presence of heroin marketed by large drug traffickers “a disturbing sign.”

Police will not be able to know if the heroin is laced with brorphine — a new, deadly synthetic drug that laced other drugs known as “bath salts” in the fall in the city. The drugs seized Wednesday will be tested, but the test will only confirm the presence of heroin, said Strangeway.

Previous conviction

Martinez was at the Econo Lodge Wednesday after pleading guilty Nov. 5 to having drugs with the intention to sell, according to Cortland County Court papers. He was released on his own recognizance in accordance with bail reform legislation enacted in January and was set to appear Jan. 21 in Cortland County court to be sentenced to three years in prison and three years of post-release supervision, according to court papers.

A grand jury indicted Martinez in August, accusing him of having 12 grams of cocaine, as well as scales and bags for packaging drugs, on Nov. 14, 2019, court records note. Martinez was arrested at a Bartlett Avenue apartment after the Cortland County Sheriff’s police dog Freddy found drugs in the residence, according to a County K-9 report.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Martinez could be sentenced to the maximum lawful prison term — 12 years — should he be arrested again before sentencing. If Martinez is convicted after Wednesday’s arrest, he could face an additional prison term.

In the written plea deal, Assistant District Attorney Christine M. R. Ferrero noted Martinez has a lengthy criminal history and was previously imprisoned for selling drugs.

“The defendant was previously sentenced to state prison for similar behavior,” Ferrero writes, “and yet fails to lead a law abiding life.”

Martinez was charged Wednesday with three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, a felony, as well as second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. He was sent to the Cortland County Correctional Facility without bail and is scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. Monday in City Court.