NEW YORK Police dismantled a heroin mill on the edge of Manhattan's theater district two blocks from Times Square, shocking officials who did not expect to find such an operation near the bustling tourist attraction.
Four people were arrested and an estimated 13 kg (28 pounds) of heroin worth $6.5 million were seized on Wednesday night, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said on Thursday.
"If our investigators were surprised by the location, you can only imagine the shock of neighbors, commuters and theater goers when they learned of the huge criminal enterprise operating inside," Bridget Brennan, New York City's special narcotics prosecutor, said in a statement.
A task force of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the New York Police Department and New York State Police led the operation on Wednesday night in a newly renovated, $3,800 a month apartment on West 43rd Street between 9th and 10th avenues -- a short walk from Broadway theaters.
"This seizure is the result of superb investigative work that led to the discovery of a booming heroin mill in a completely unexpected location," Brennan said.
As recently as the early 1990s the Times Square area was a haven for vice but intense police enforcement has turned it into a safe tourist attraction.
The apartment was used to convert bricks of heroin into small doses for sale on the street.
More than 250,000 glassine envelopes were found in the apartment, each of which sells for at least $10 on the street, Brennan's statement said.
One of the suspects was arrested as he attempted to drive away from the apartment building in a car with a bag which contained refuse from heroin production. Another suspect was arrested inside the apartment, and two others were found after attempting to escape through a back door.
Many of the envelopes were marked with the brand names "King Kong" and "95 South," two of at least 50 heroin brand name stamps found in the apartment.
The four suspects, ranging in age from 34 to 50, were expected to be arraigned on Thursday at Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; Editing by Daniel Trotta)