Former Buffalo Police Officer Sentenced for Operating a Large-Scale Marijuana Grow Operation
BUFFALO, NY—U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Jorge Melendez, 44, of Buffalo, NY, who was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture more than 100 marijuana plants, was sentenced to 60 months in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge William Skretny. The defendant was also ordered to pay a money judgement totalling $300,000, and forfeit a Suburban vehicle, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a 36 foot speed boat, and seven firearms.
“For all those who take an oath to uphold the law, there is nothing more egregious than to flout that sacred promise and become a criminal,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “This defendant—while wearing the uniform of a police officer—served as a drug dealer for two years. The defendant’s actions have now cost him his liberty and property. They have not, however, reduced the high regard we have for those officers who continue to perform an outstanding job keeping all of us safe.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Tripi, who handled the case, stated that on May 31, 2012, Melendez, along with co-defendants Jason Elardo and Robert Osika, were arrested after a long term investigation into a large scale marijuana grow operation at three locations. Specifically, Melendez and Elardo maintained a marijuana grow operation at a warehouse located at 2157 South Park Ave. in Buffalo. During the course of an investigation into the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, law enforcement officers installed hidden surveillance equipment on the second floor of the South Park Ave. warehouse where a grow operation was located. A review of surveillance video showed Melendez and Elardo tending to over 100 marijuana plants.
Prior to installing cameras inside the warehouse, officers monitored the outside of the building, also using surveillance cameras. Melendez was observed arriving in a Buffalo Police patrol car, while on duty, and entering and exiting the location. The defendant worked in the Buffalo Police Department’s “D” District, however the warehouse is located in the “A” District.
The outside surveillance cameras also observed Elardo entering the warehouse on a daily basis to tend to the marijuana grow operation. In addition, officers obtained credit card information indicating that Elardo purchased equipment used to sustain an indoor, hydroponic marijuana grow operation. The equipment included a dehumidifier and filters.
At one point during the investigation, officers observed a police badge and credentials belonging to Melendez inside the warehouse. Melendez claimed to have previously lost the badge and identification.
On May 31, 2012, two additional locations were found to contain grow operations. A warehouse located at 1372 Clinton Street in Buffalo and a residence located at 76 West Woodside, both owned by Jason and third co-defendant Gale Elardo, were found to contain a marijuana grow operation. The residence also was found to contain marijuana packaged for sale and two firearms.
Defendants Osika and Gale Elardo have been convicted and are awaiting sentenced. Jason Elardo is deceased.
The sentencing is the culmination of an investigation on the part of Investigators of the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Michael Cerretto, the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of James J. Hunt, Special Agent in Charge, New York Field Division, Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Buffalo Police Department under the direction of Commission Daniel Derenda.