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Police say suspect arrested in sweep used car business to launder drug money

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published May 08. 2013 4:00AM   Updated May 08. 2013 1:21PM

Erick J. "Jay" Torres, arrested during last month's major drug sweep, was licensed by the state of Indiana to run an automobile auction company named "A Greater Way," but authorities say it was just a front for his drug-dealing business.

During the 15-month investigation that led to more than 100 arrests last month by local, state and federal authorities, Torres, 26, of Mystic, had bragged to a confidential informant that he used the fraudulent car auction business to hide drug money, according to a court document.

"Torres stated that he can explain to law enforcement during any possible encounter that the reason he is holding large quantities of money is because he is in the auto auction business," said the arrest warrant affidavit prepared by Officer Eric Lewandoski, of the Waterford police, and the Statewide Narcotics Task Force. "Torres informed the (confidential informant) that the police cannot take the money because he can explain to officers that he is in the auto business and commonly has money on his person to buy cars."

Torres, charged with 10 counts of sale of narcotics and one count of money laundering under the state's Corrupt Organizations and Racketeering Activity Act, made his first appearance Tuesday in the New London court where major crimes are tried.

Also appearing were several others arrested during the sweep, including Torres' sister, 24-year-old Sandra Torres-Vazquez, who is accused of selling drugs as part of Torres' organization, and one of his girlfriends, 26-year-old Lauren Silva, who is accused of helping him launder money by purchasing cars and motorcycles with money derived from drug sales.

All three pleaded not guilty and received new court dates.

Torres, who was on parole for a previous drug conviction when arrested, is being held in lieu of $200,000 at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center and has retained attorney William T. Gerace.

Torres-Vazquez is being held in lieu of $100,000 at the Janet S. York Correctional Center and will be represented by Linda J. Sullivan, a special public defender.

Silva, who has no criminal history, is free on a written promise to appear in court and has hired attorney Anthony R. Basilica.

According to court documents, members of the Statewide Narcotics Task Force conducted 17 controlled purchases of heroin from Torres, Gregory Celestin or one of their associates between March and August 2012. A total of $1,840 worth of heroin was purchased.

"During the course of these transactions, Torres, Celestin or their associates would usually arrive at the target locations in a number of various automobiles," said an affidavit prepared by state police Detective Colleen Anuszewski.

Celestin, 28, who has previous convictions in New London Superior Court for possession of narcotics and possession with intent to sell, has not been arrested. During the investigation, the authorities learned that Celestin also had an Indiana automobile dealership business, which was called MJC Auto Inc.

The affidavits said they observed Celestin and Torres drive at least five different cars with Indiana license plates to conduct drug sales to undercover agents.

While conducting surveillance at a residence on Bloomingdale Road, Quaker Hill, where they said Torres sometimes resided with Silva, officers said they observed seven cars, including a 2007 Mercedes S550 and a 2008 Honda Accord that were registered to Silva, a 1994 Chevrolet Caprice registered to Torres and four cars with no plates. Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version of this paragraph.

State Department of Labor records show that while Celestin and Torres had scant employment histories, Silva has been steadily employed for several years, according to the court documents.

During the drug sweep, authorities said they seized several high-end vehicles. It is unclear how many of them belonged to Torres and his associates.

k.florin@theday.com

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