|TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that the Division of Criminal Justice today obtained a state grand jury indictment charging 36 defendants – including the two top leaders, six upper-level managers, and 28 other associates, street-level managers and dealers – with first-degree racketeering, as alleged participants in a major narcotics network with ties to the Ñetas street gang that was dealing large quantities of heroin in the area of 4th and Royden Streets in Camden.
The indictment stems from Operation Billboard, an investigation led by the Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Camden Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most of the defendants were arrested when the agencies took down the ring beginning on May 30, 2012. The indictment was returned on Jan. 9, but sealed until today pending efforts to arrest certain additional defendants.
The alleged senior leader of the narcotics network, Noel Gonzalez, 43, of Camden, aka “Noel Ripoll” a reputed member of the Ñetas, and his alleged partner, Michael Rivera, 29, of Camden, aka “Bute,” are charged with the first-degree crime of leader of a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a sentence of life in prison, including 25 years without parole. The 39-count indictment charges all 36 defendants with first-degree racketeering and second-degree conspiracy. The racketeering charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, including a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Twenty-five defendants, including Gonzalez, are charged with first-degree distribution of narcotics and/or first-degree possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. They face 10 to 20 years in prison on those charges. Rivera is also charged with possession of a handgun as a convicted felon, which carries a mandatory sentence of five years without parole. Many defendants also face various second- and third-degree drug charges.
“We sent investigators into the area surrounding 4th and Royden Streets because it has been a hotbed of violence, including daytime shootings,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “By identifying this large, well-organized criminal enterprise and targeting the organization from top to bottom with a first-degree racketeering indictment, we’re taking strong aim at the drug dealing that is fueling violence and destroying the lives of residents in this section of Camden. These defendants will face lengthy prison sentences without parole if convicted of the charges against them.”
“This indictment is a testament to the strong working relationships we have forged with the Camden Police Department, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to aggressively investigate drug and weapons trafficking in the city,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice. “With these proactive investigations, we seek to have a larger impact in critical sectors of Camden, in order to assist local and county law enforcement in their day-to-day efforts to prevent violence and solve crimes.”
Deputy Attorney General Andrew B. Johns presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.
The investigation revealed that Gonzalez and Rivera ran a large-scale drug distribution network that was dealing up to tens of thousands of dollars in heroin per week. In addition to Gonzalez, the leadership of the network includes other members of the Ñetas and Latin Kings street gangs. The network allegedly possessed guns and employed violence to protect its territory. A number of the defendants have been charged in the past with violent crimes or weapons offenses.
It is alleged that the narcotics network led by Gonzalez and Rivera supplied and controlled at least four open-air drug “sets” dealing heroin at the following locations:
- 4th and Royden Streets,
- West and Royden Streets,
- Royden and Henry Streets,
- 4th and Spruce Streets.
The network also allegedly conducted drug deals at numerous locations in the surrounding area. The network allegedly sold heroin stamped with brand names that included “A+,” “Major League,” “Hot Party,” “El Tiger,” and “Ice Cream.”
The network had a hierarchy with well-defined roles, including “case workers,” “set managers” and “trappers.” Case workers, also called “runners,” served as upper-level managers, coordinating the enterprise’s drug sales while on duty. They were responsible for handing out bundles of heroin to the lower-level set managers and trappers, and returning proceeds from the drug sales to Gonzalez and Rivera. They provided a layer of insulation for the leaders, working near but not at the set locations where street-level transactions were conducted.
The indictment charges the following six alleged case workers: (*Indicates defendant faces first-degree charge of distribution of heroin and/or cocaine, or possession with intent to distribute.)
- *William Alvarez, 36, of Camden, aka “June” and “Beatle.”
- Angel L. Martinez, 28, of Camden, aka “Gunz” (alleged Ñetas gang member).
- Joseph Rivera, 28, of Cherry Hill, aka “Baby.”
- Samuel Serrano, 25, of Camden, aka “Sammy.”
- *Fred Alvarado, 47, of Camden, aka “Freddy” (alleged Latin Kings gang member).
- *Jonathan Santiago, 32, of Camden, aka “Shorty” and “Chico.”
The set managers worked at the drug set locations and directed the work of the trappers, who conducted hand-to-hand drug transactions for the drug sets. Set managers also conducted some hand-to-hand transactions themselves, and they would occasionally work for a day as a case worker.
The indictment charges the following eight alleged set managers:
- *Wilkins Castro, 33, of Camden.
- *Cindy M. Scanes, 27, of Camden, aka “Fat Cindy.”
- *Jonathan Roman, 23, of Camden, aka “Papo.”
- *JessMarie Ramirez, 31, of Camden, aka “Jessie.”
- Michael Ortiz, 20, of Camden, aka “Mikey.”
- *Edguardo Ortiz, 21, of Camden, aka “Bebe.”
- *Christopher Vasquez, 21, of Camden.
- *George Rivera, 28, of Camden, aka “Ant,” “Anthony,” and “Angel.”
The indictment charges the following 15 alleged trappers:
- *Giovanni Mercado, 21, of Camden.
- *Miguel Bello, 21, of Pennsauken.
- Victoria Ventura, 24, of Camden.
- *Timothy Peters, 19, of Camden, aka “White Boy.”
- *Luis Vazquez, 20, of Camden, aka “Lil Lou
- *William Rivera, 31, of Camden, aka “Butch.”
- *Hassan Torres, 25, of Camden, aka “Haz.”
- *Jose O. Diaz, 20, of Camden.
- *Julio Medina, 22, of Camden, aka “Juli.”
- Victor Serrano, 20, of Camden, aka “Bobo.”
- *Juan Santana, 53, of Camden, aka “Chino.”
- *Calvin J. Lewis, 23, of Blackwood, aka “CJ”
- *Sebastian Cordero, 20, of Camden, aka “Sab.”
- *Jonathan Vasquez, 19, of Camden.
- Dewayne Shines, 21, of Camden, aka “D-Block.”
The indictment charges the following five alleged associates of the drug enterprise, who allegedly held different roles:
- *Vicente Porrata, 47, of Merchantville, aka “Lluvia,” who allegedly distributed heroin.
- Virgilio Vargas, Jr., 25, of Camden, aka “June,” who allegedly facilitated drug sales and acted as a courier of packaged heroin.
- *Gregorio Laboy, Jr., 22, of Camden, aka “Cono,” who allegedly distributed heroin and served as a courier of packaged heroin.
- Luis Rodriguez, 53, of Camden, aka “Miro,” who allegedly held firearms for Gonzalez.
- Luz Ripoll, 39, of Philadelphia, Gonzalez’s sister, who allegedly had primary responsibility for packaging the heroin for street level distribution.
The finances of the network were built around selling “bundles” of heroin. A bundle consists of 14 bags – small wax paper folds stamped with a brand – with each bag being sold for $10, giving each bundle a street value of $140. The $100 from the first 10 bags sold in each bundle allegedly went directly to Gonzalez or Rivera. The set managers and trappers kept $30 from each bundle sold and were expected to return $110 to the case worker. The case worker would get a $10 cut from every bundle sold during their shift. The case worker would then deliver $100 from each bundle to Gonzalez or Rivera. The number of bundles a set manager was permitted to handle at one time was based on their reliability as determined by the leaders. Along with their duties of managing set managers, the case workers also sold drugs to purchasers who bought multiple bundles of heroin.
One defendant charged in the original sweep, Angel Martinez, remains a fugitive and is being sought on a warrant. Arrest warrants were issued on Jan. 9 for seven defendants who were not charged initially: Luz Ripoll, Joseph Rivera, Luis Rodriguez, Dewayne Shines, Victoria Ventura, Miguel Bello and Victor Serrano. Ripoll, Rivera, Rodriguez and Shines were arrested early this morning, and the other three are still being sought as fugitives on the warrants. Bail was set this morning for Rodriguez ($1 million), Rivera ($350,000) and Shines ($350,000). The defendants arrested in the original sweep were lodged in jail with bails set at $300,000 to $1.5 million.
At the time of the initial arrests, investigators executed search warrants at Gonzalez’s residence in the 1200 block of Collings Road and four other residences. During the arrests and searches, authorities seized approximately three-quarters of a kilo of heroin; approximately $52,000 in cash; about $20,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency, and a .40-caliber handgun. Eight vehicles were also seized.
Operation Billboard was conducted by the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, the Camden City Police Department, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, the New Jersey State Police, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. Assistance was provided by the Audubon Police Department and the Haddon Township Police Department.
Attorney General Chiesa credited Detective Peppi Pichette, Detective Brian Woolston, Detective James Blong III, Detective Jeffrey Lorman, Detective Richard Dasilva Jr., Detective Naike Kudlik, Sgt. Andrea Salvatini, and Sgt. Richard Carlin of the Division of Criminal Justice, under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Detectives Chuck Foley. Attorney General Chiesa also credited Deputy Attorney General Andrew B. Johns and Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, under the direction of Supervising Deputy Attorney General Mark Eliades, Chief of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Christopher Romanyshyn, Deputy Bureau Chief. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is handling the civil forfeiture matters. Attorney General Chiesa thanked all of the individuals who worked on the operation for the participating agencies.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Camden County, where the defendants will be arraigned at a later date. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment is posted with this release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
The charge of leader of a narcotics trafficking network carries a sentence of life in state prison, including 25 years without parole, and a fine of up to $750,000. The other first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000, or $500,000 for the first-degree drug distribution and possession charges. The first-degree racketeering charge carries a period of parole ineligibility under the No Early Release Act equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Gonzalez, Michael Rivera and Porrata are charged with third-degree money laundering, which carries an enhanced penalty of up to $500,000. Michael Rivera is charged with second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, which carries a mandatory five-year period of parole ineligibility, and second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, which carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed or 3 years, whichever is greater.