Thirty-Four ‘Horseback’ Defendants Out Of Jail

Of the 44 individuals sent to Chautauqua County Jail for their alleged involvement in a massive heroin distribution ring, 34 are now back on the streets.

The year-long, multi-jurisdictional sting operation – code-named “Operation Horseback” – that netted these individuals last month was indeed seen as a triumph for those curbing the flow of heroin into Jamestown.

But the seemingly fast rate at which drug offenders exit jail and re-offend – often with drug-related crimes – suggests progress in drug enforcement is ultimately fruitless.

“Anyone in the law enforcement profession would be naive to think that some of these people aren’t again involving themselves in illegal activity,” said Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff.

He pointed to Michael J. Lisciandro as proof.

The 23-year-old Jamestown man was involved in an alcohol-related vehicle accident in the area of Jefferson Elementary School on Aug. 4, just five days after he was taken into custody on drug charges as part of “Operation Horseback.”

With a bail set at $10,000 cash and a $20,000 property bond, it is believed – but not confirmed – that Lisciandro posted bail with the help of a local bail bond agency.

A bondsman assists defendants who cannot afford their bail by charging a non-refundable percentage of the bail amount in exchange for a surety bond. The bond is posted in court and quickly gets a defendant out of jail. Of course, the defendant is required to show up to his or her court appearance or risk losing a form of collateral.

“The bail bond industry is not how it’s pictured in the movies,” said Gerry Classon, co-owner of the Jamestown-based Classon Bail Agency, the only bail agency in Chautauqua County. “A lot of our customers actually end up being kids of really nice families that just end up getting into situations where they’re not old enough to know any better.”

Classon, who acknowledged that some people don’t understand the bail process and unwittingly point fingers at bail agencies for freeing repeat offenders, indicated that everyone has the constitutional right to post bail. Moreover, a defendant at home will not only have more time to prepare a better defense for his or her court appearance, but be more convincing in a suit than a jail uniform.

Nathaniel Barone, Chautauqua County public defender, indicated though that some defendants don’t even reach a trial at all.

“I would imagine most of (the defendants involved in the drug ring) will either plead out … or there will be some type of motion to dismiss certain people,” he said. “By the time it gets to the actual trial date, not many will be going to trial.”

Indeed, while some might point fingers at drug laws or the court system as partly responsible for the so-called “vicious cycle” of drugs, there’s little doubt that the real problem lies in an ongoing supply and demand system.

“The reality is that when you have anything that involves supply and demand, and the demand is high, then subsequently someone will fill that demand with a supply,” Gerace said. “We need to really work on reducing demand. At the same time, we have to keep the heat on suppliers. Hopefully over time, there will be a reduction in the addiction levels that lead people to street drugs in the first place.”