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Lenient judge bucks request for $1 million bail for alleged drug dealers despite flight risk

The two alleged dealers were busted at a NYC apartment.
Two alleged drug dealers were arrested in a posh NYC apartment for alleged drug dealing but sent to jail on a lower bail than prosecutors requested.

A notoriously lenient Manhattan judge low-balled prosecutors’ bail requests for two alleged drug dealers busted this week with $1.1 million worth of narcotics — even though they are considered serious flight risks, law enforcement officials and sources said.

Prosecutors asked Judge Valentina Morales to set bail at $1 million cash each illegal Mexican migrant Sergio J. Betancourt Peralta, 34, and Jovanny Salas, 20, of Colorado — to ensure they would remain in Rikers until their next court date.

But Morales, 45 — who has sprung at least four allegedly violent criminals since taking the bench in 2021 — lowered the duo’s bail to $75,000 each, records show.

Both remained in jail as of Friday, online records show.

Investigators found 30 pounds of meth and about eight pounds of cocaine in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment where they arrested the alleged drug dealers. Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York
Investigators found 30 pounds of meth and about eight pounds of cocaine in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment where they arrested the alleged drug dealers. Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York

“She’s pro-criminal. She set bail, but we’re talking minute bail for someone that the DA’s were asking $1 million dollars for. That’s not small change. Clearly they know that these people can get out of jail,” a police source said of the jurist appointed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

A spokeswoman for city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan, whose office prosecuted the case, said the office asked for what it thought was sufficient to hold the men.

“We requested an amount more than 10 times higher than the bail set by the court,” said spokeswoman Kati Cornell. “Clearly, our view of what’s adequate to ensure these individuals return to court is different from the court’s point of view.”

The two alleged dealers were arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Task Force – which includes the DEA, the NYPD and New York State Police – in a posh 27th floor pad at The Mercedes House at West 54th Street in Hell’s Kitchen on Tuesday, court documents show.

Team members entered the flat around 6 p.m. and found two vacuum sealing machines, $27,880 in cash in rubber-banded stacks, and Peralta’s Mexican passport and expired “U.S. Visa/border crossing card” along with more than 30 pounds of meth and 8 pounds of cocaine. Both men were charged with three counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance.

The two alleged drug dealers also had about $30,000 in cash. Special Narcotics prosecutors office
The two alleged drug dealers also had about $30,000 in cash. Special Narcotics prosecutors office
Jovanny Salas was one of the men arrested in Hell’s Kitchen allegedly in possession of meth and cocaine. DEA
Jovanny Salas was one of the men arrested in Hell’s Kitchen allegedly in possession of meth and cocaine. DEA

In court, prosecutors argued that Peralta posed a flight risk because he had “access to large sums of money” and that he is here “illegally,” law enforcement sources said.

Salas, who has a Colorado driver’s license, has a history of failing to appear for multiple court cases in Nebraska and Colorado and of using different names and birthdays, the sources said.

Morales, who once ran The Women’s Project at the non-profit Fedcap Group, which pushed for alternatives to incarceration under de Blasio, has a history of releasing alleged criminals on low or no bail.

Manhattan Judge Valentina Morales has a reputation of setting lower bail than requested by prosecutors or no bail at all.
Manhattan Judge Valentina Morales has a reputation of setting lower bail than requested by prosecutors or no bail at all.

In November 2021, Morales refused a prosecutor’s request to set bail for a mentally ill homeless man, Augustin Garcia, 63, who was busted three times in just 36 hours during an alleged theft and robbery spree in which he pulled a knife on a straphanger, cops said.

Prosecutors asked for $20,000 cash bail or $60,000 bail bond. Morales let him go with a 72-hour psych evaluation.

38 pounds of meth and cocaine was found in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment where the Mexican migrant was living. Special Narcotics prosecutors office
38 pounds of meth and cocaine was found in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment where the Mexican migrant was living. Special Narcotics prosecutors office

In 2022, she was working in Bronx criminal court when she released ex-con Frankie Centeno with electronic monitoring for gun possession charges. Centeno, who had a history of violating parole, fled the country and had to be rearrested.

The Columbia Law School graduate set Venezuelan migrant Walter Almachi Leal free without bail in 2023 after he slashed a 43-year-old man with a busted beer bottle on West 39th Street in Times Square, police said. The alleged victim required 20 stitches in his arm.

Earlier this month, Morales released a vagrant who allegedly bashed a stranger’s head with a heavy object as she walked to work in Union Square.

Victim Jill Burke, 24, only learned her alleged attacker Eric Taylor was cut loose when she showed up to testify against him to a grand jury.

Morales released Taylor — who has two prior felony convictions and 22 misdemeanor convictions — despite a prosecutor’s request for $20,000 cash bail or $60,000 bond, records show.

“I don’t know how a judge would let someone like this walk free,” Burke said at the time.