CAMDEN –New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced arrests in the takedown of a major Philadelphia-based gun trafficking ring that illegally trafficked numerous guns and methamphetamine into Camden, N.J. In total, the joint investigation “Operation Zombie” resulted in the recovery of 36 guns and over 20 ounces of methamphetamine – the equivalent of as many as 14,000 individual doses – among other contraband.
A semi-automatic rifle allegedly sold by the ring in December has been identified as the gun used in the October 20, 2019 murder of Nikolette Rivera, who was shot as her mother held her in her arms in their home in the 3300 block of North Water Street in Philadelphia. The mother and a contractor working in the home were seriously wounded. While two men were charged in that case, the gun used was not recovered at the time. The men were allegedly targeting the child’s father when they fired at the house.
Another gun – a 9mm handgun – allegedly sold by the ring has been linked to a September 2019 shooting in Philadelphia in which no one was hit.
AG Grewal and AG Shapiro today also announced a new “PA/NJ Gun Trafficking Initiative” to interdict interstate gun trafficking and solve gun crimes.
“I am incredibly proud to be part of a collaborative law enforcement effort that removed over 30 guns from our streets, including several linked to violence in our region, as well as large quantities of meth,” said Attorney General Grewal. “By working together to dismantle rings like this one, we are saving lives and improving the safety of all our communities. And by expanding our interstate collaborations, we can build on today’s efforts to further tackle the iron pipeline of illegal guns. Four out of five crime guns in New Jersey originate in states with weaker gun laws, with the largest number coming from Pennsylvania, and we’re going to keep working together to arrest the traffickers who put our residents and our law enforcement officers at risk.”
“Law enforcement collaboration was the key to this successful operation,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “By working together and sharing intelligence, we took 36 guns off the streets and made our communities safer. But this is just the start. Thanks to our new partnership, we will more effectively shut down crime gun pipelines and get firearms out of the hands of criminals who want to do harm.”
“Operation Zombie” was a joint investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office—Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), New Jersey State Police, Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and the Philadelphia Police Department.
Between March 2019 and January 2020, the ring sold 16 guns in the Camden area, including six military-style rifles, 10 handguns, and two illegal large-capacity magazines (one 75-round drum magazine and one 30-round magazine), and approximately 12 ounces of methamphetamine. Another 20 guns were seized during arrests and searches last week – including 10 handguns, six shotguns, three military-style rifles, and an Uzi – along with a large-capacity magazine, three partial sticks of dynamite, nearly 9 ounces of methamphetamine, 60 wax folds of heroin, over 80 marijuana plants, and a small amount of crack cocaine.
The following defendants were arrested beginning late Wednesday, Jan. 22, or are pending arrest, as indicated:
Robert Crosley III, 32, aka “Zombie,” of Philadelphia, who allegedly managed the gun trafficking conspiracy. Arrested on the night of Jan. 22 in Camden.
Matthew Zoba, 38, of Philadelphia, who allegedly managed the drug trafficking conspiracy. Arrested on the morning of Jan. 23 in Philadelphia.
Victoria Zipf, 33, of Philadelphia, Zoba’s girlfriend, who allegedly acted as a straw purchaser and assisted in gun and drug sales. Arrested on the morning of Jan. 23 in Philadelphia.
Michael Snyder, 44, of Philadelphia, who allegedly acted as a straw purchaser and assisted in gun and drug sales. Snyder was charged by complaint-warrant and is pending arrest.
Yuri Lyubinskiy, 39, of Philadelphia, who allegedly assisted in gun and drug sales. Lyubinskiy was charged by complaint-warrant and is pending arrest.
Attorneys General Grewal and Shapiro announced the arrests at Camden Metro Police Headquarters with Camden County Police Chief Joseph Wysocki, DCJ Director Veronica Allende, Lt. Colonel Geoffrey Noble of the New Jersey State Police, Assistant Special Agent in Charge David Carter of the FBI Philadelphia Field Office, Resident Agent in Charge Raymond Franklin of the DEA Camden Resident Office, Special Agent in Charge Charlie Patterson of the ATF Newark Field Division, and Deputy U.S. Attorney Matthew Skahill, Deputy U.S. Attorney for the Trenton and Camden Vicinages.
AGs Grewal and Shapiro also announced the PA/NJ Gun Trafficking Initiative. This effort will build on the intelligence sharing efforts by the Camden Violent Crime Initiative and Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force, which will continue in full force in their respective cities. The new PA/NJ initiative will promote intelligence sharing at a state-wide level to enable law enforcement in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to identify and investigate interstate gun trafficking and criminal conduct that spans the Delaware River. As part of the initiative, law enforcement agencies from each state will meet to discuss potential leads on crime guns that can be pursued by the partnering agencies.
“We are aggressively investigating and prosecuting the criminal profiteers who capitalize on the ready market for illegal guns on the streets of New Jersey,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to work with the New Jersey State Police and all of our federal, state, county, and local partners to stop the illicit flow of lethal firepower into our communities.”
“Illegal weapons traffickers profit from a trade that brings nothing but pain, suffering, and death, whether it’s from the bullets of the guns they sell or the drug trafficking that is almost always associated with those who seek out these illegal weapons,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Through this partnership, we will work together to dismantle illegal trafficking rings on either side of the river and put those responsible behind bars.”
“These arrests show what can happen when law enforcement works together to take down criminals who have zero concern about putting powerful firearms in the wrong hands,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Those who illegally sell guns, deal drugs, and fuel violent crime need to know that the safety of our communities is not negotiable. The FBI and our partners will never stop working to keep deadly weapons away from people who shouldn’t have them.”
“The prevalence of illegal gun trafficking in Philadelphia and across the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is a scourge which my office is committed to fighting, together with our law enforcement partners,” said U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain. “In the last year, federal prosecutions of crimes involving guns in the Eastern District are up 70% because we recognize that the best way to prevent crime is to get weapons out of the hands of people who are not permitted to legally possess them, and to get dangerous criminals off the street. My office will continue to work with our partners at the federal, state and local levels in this effort, and I want to especially thank Attorneys General Grewal and Shapiro for launching this new initiative to share intelligence and help prevent violent crime in our region.”
Susan A. Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey Division said, “It is a priority for all law enforcement to target individuals involved in the trafficking of weapons and narcotics. The seizure of the weapons and arrest of these individuals in this multi-agency investigation have made the Camden and Philadelphia area safer.”
“ATF remains committed in the fight to defend our communities from would-be perpetrators who contribute to violent crime,” said Special Agent in Charge Charlie J. Patterson of the ATF Newark Field Division. “Rest assured, ATF will continue to collaborate with, and provide our firearms investigative expertise to our law enforcement partners at the local, state, and federal level.”
“Interdicting illegal firearms and eliminating gun violence is our agency’s number one priority in the city,” said Chief Joseph Wysocki of the Camden County Police Department. “These weapons create chaos and undermine the stability of our neighborhoods. I want to thank our federal and state law enforcement partners for getting these weapons off our streets, as a result of Operation Zombie, and look forward to working and sharing data in the new Philadelphia-Camden Gun Trafficking Initiative.”
Crosley was arrested Wednesday night in Camden when he allegedly arrived to sell guns and drugs. He was in possession of an AR-15 rifle, a large-capacity magazine, three shotguns, including a sawed-off shotgun, two handguns, 4 ounces of methamphetamine, and illegal hollow-nose bullets.
The investigation revealed that Crosley allegedly obtained guns illegally by paying “straw purchasers” to buy guns in Pennsylvania at dealerships and gun shows. Crosley typically made the arrangements to sell guns and/or methamphetamine by texting the purchaser. He would text photos to the customer showing the guns he had for sale and setting prices ranging as high as $2,200 for an AR-15 style rifle.
Zoba also allegedly arranged deals for guns and drugs via texts or phone calls. Once Crosley or Zoba reached a deal, they made arrangements to deliver the guns or drugs to Camden. Sometimes Crosley and Zoba traveled together, or one of them would be driven by Snyder, Lyubiniskiy, or Zipf.
Zoba and Crosley are being held in jail pending extradition and detention hearings. Zipf was released on bail in Pennsylvania.
The multi-agency investigation is ongoing, including the investigation into the individuals involved in straw purchases in Pennsylvania.
Deputy Attorney General Cassandra Montalto is the lead prosecutor for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Erik Daab, Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, and Acting DCJ Deputy Director Annmarie Taggart.
Detective Sgt. Garrett Cullen is the lead detective for the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime South Unit, under the supervision of Detective Sgt. First Class Gregg Ogden, Detective Sgt. First Class Thomas DeVirgilis, Captain Michael Flory, and Major Michael Kane.
Attorney General Grewal commended the following agencies for their work on Operation Zombie:
- New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau
- New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime South Unit
- Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force
- U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
- FBI Philadelphia Field Office & South Jersey Resident Agency
- DEA New Jersey Division, Camden Resident Office
- ATF Newark Field Division, Camden Field Office
- Philadelphia Police Department
Crosley and Zoba are charged with first-degree promoting organized street crime, Crosley in connection with the gun trafficking and Zoba in connection with the drug trafficking. Zoba allegedly dealt powder and crack cocaine, in addition to the methamphetamine. Crosley and Zoba also are charged with first-degree distribution of methamphetamine and second-degree possession of a gun by a convicted felon.
All of the defendants are charged with second-degree conspiracy in connection with the gun trafficking and second-degree transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale or transfer. Crosley, Zoba, Snyder, and Lyubinskiy are charged with second-degree conspiracy in connection with the drug trafficking. Snyder is charged with second-degree distribution of methamphetamine, and Crosley, Zoba, and Snyder are charged with third-degree possession of methamphetamine. Zoba also is charged with third-degree distribution of cocaine and third-degree possession of cocaine.
The defendants are variously charged with additional weapons offenses, including second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun (Crosley, Zoba, Snyder, Zipf); third-degree unlawful possession of a rifle (Crosley, Lyubinskiy, Snyder); fourth-degree unlawful disposition of a rifle (Crosley, Lyubinskiy, Snyder); fourth-degree unlawful disposition of a handgun (all defendants); fourth-degree unlawful possession and fourth-degree unlawful disposition of a large-capacity magazine (Crosley); fourth-degree unlawful possession and fourth-degree unlawful disposition of hollow-nose bullets (Zoba).
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000, while second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The sentence for promoting organized street crime must be served consecutively to the sentence for any underlying offense. First-degree distribution of methamphetamine carries an enhanced fine of up to $500,000. The second-degree charge of transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of five years. The second-degree charge of unlawful possession of a handgun carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed or 3 ½ years, whichever is greater. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000 ($35,000 for the drug charges), while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
For Crosley: Robert Gamburg, Esq., Gamburg & Benedetto, LLC, Philadelphia, Pa.
Other Defendants: Undetermined.