Vincent Halpin, owner of Custom Kitchen World. Inc. on Middletown Road in Pearl River does not know William Peck well, though his store is only a few doors down from Peck's Three Daughter's Pizzeria in Towne Plaza.
Halpin expressed his surprise and consern to learn that Peck and one of his employees, Michael Leone, were arrested before dawn early Thursday morning on drug-related charges as part of a major sweep in the area.
"I take my grandkids there for pizza," said Halpin, whose store has been in that location for 30 years. "He seems like a very jovial type of guy. Happy-go-lucky. He didn't seem like the kind of guy (to do), whatever it is that he has been acccused of."
Peck and Leone were arrested as acted on a six-month undercover investigation this morning. Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe and Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty announced that 12 individuals have been indicted and criminal charges have been filed against two others as the result of a six-month undercover investigation of Nyack, Pearl River and Tappan.
The defendents are charged with selling powdered and crack cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs to undercover officers over the course of the six-month operation. Most of the alleged sales happened in a one-square-block location in Central Nyack bordered by South Franklin Street, Depew Avenue, Liberty Avenue and Hudson Avenue, but Operation Deadliest Ghost led officers into other parts of Orangetown.
"This initiative -- dubbed Operation Deadliest Ghost -- is another in our continuing campaign to stop the plague of drug-dealing and drug-based violence in the Village of Nyack," Zugibe said. "These arrests underscore our committment to improve the quality of life for all residents in Rockland County."
Police said the arrested individuals range from the ages of 20 to 51, and are charged with selling powdered and crack cocaine, prescription narcotics and marijuana. The men sold drugs to undercover officers, a process that was often hindered by lookouts, police said.
"The bad guys would send out younger kids on bikes to tip them off if an officer was in the area," said Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty.
The operations in Pearl River were considred to be unrelated to those in Central Nyack. Peck is charged with selling OxyCodone and marijuana from his business, located at 83A North Middletown Road. He faces multiple counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, a class "B" Felony that is punishable by up to nine years in prison.
Leone is accused of selling OxyCodone and marijuana inside the restaurant and in the parking lot.
"We get pizza there all the time," said Brian Doyle, president and owner of the Verizon Wireless store in Towne Plaza. "He's frazzled all the time, but he makes good food. We always heard rumors, but you didn't see any suspicious stuff."
Doyle said he was happy to hear about the police crackdown.
"The issue I have as an owner is I did hear that parents were concerned a couple of years ago," Doyle said. "For selfish reasons, I want traffic coming in here. If there is a problem, clean it up."
"I don't like to hear anything about drugs, espeically around here where you have a school" Halpin said. "We pay high taxes in this town. I would hope you don't have drug dealing in town."
The school Halpin referred to is Pearl River High School, which is within walking distance of Three Daughters Pizza.
"It’s always a concern when you have got people allegedly selling drugs within walking distance," said Pearl River High School principal William Furdon, who is a member of Orangetown's Substance Abuse Committee. "It is in an area where our seniors have lunch every day. I also have a great deal of faith in our kids that during the day, when they are out there, they are smart enough that they stay away from those people."
The drug sweep is part of a larger campaign to dismember drug activities in Nyack and Rockland. In 2008, authorities investigated complaints of violence and drug-dealing around Nyack's senior citizen housing on Depew Avenue.
In April of 2010, Orangetown Police collaborated with , New York State Police, the Rockland Sheriff's Department and several other outfits to carry out "Operation Deadliest Catch," which resulted criminal charges being levied against 20 Rockland individuals for selling heroin and cocaine.
In Tappan, two men are charged with selling Klonopin, a prescription drug used to fight debilitating anxiety, and cocaine.
Police and government officials held a press conference at noon today inside the one-square block area where the investigation took place.
"When one of our neighborhoods isn't safe, none of our neighborhoods are safe," said Orangetown Councilwoman Nancy Low-Hogan, who also applauded Orangetown Police Department's job.
Jen Laird-White, Nyack trustee and the village's liasion with the Orangetown Police Department, was also present.
"We thank the Orangetown Police Department for all the effort they put into this," Laird-White said. She added that authorities are working to find a find a long-term solution, and not just arrests. In a press release from the police department, authorities note "the investigation continues into the reach and scope of the illicit operation and further arrests will be made."
When asked why police honed in this particular square-block, Nulty said it was a response to reisdents' anxiety and unrelated to race or income.
"The investigated was generated by citizen complaints," he explained.
Editor's Note: Updated with local reaction from Pearl River.