ELIZABETH—After nearly three years on the run, the alleged kingpin of a notorious drug ring that was responsible for bringing millions of dollars worth of heroin into the United States was arraigned inside a Union County courtroom last week, Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow announced.
Alejandro Cleves, 29, had been on the run since 2003 to avoid prosecution on drug distribution charges, according to Union County officials. A 2005 investigation conducted by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration broke up the drug trafficking ring and resulted in 21 arrests. Two New Jersey State Police troopers were convicted as a result of the investigation.
Cleves was born in Medellin, Colombia but moved to Union County when he was 7-years-old. He continued to reside in the county until 2003. Upon returning to Colombia, he began arranging deliveries of high quality, low cost heroin to the United States, through parties he met while living in New Jersey, authorities said.
“He quickly moved from being a low level dealer in the U.S. to a significant trafficker in Colombia,” said Romankow.
The Prosecutor’s Office worked closely with Colombian authorities over the last several years to get Cleves on American soil and into a courtroom.
“We were convinced they shared our assessment of how significant Cleves was to heroin distribution in New Jersey. Colombian officials were impressed with the quantity and quality of heroin Cleves had been smuggling into the United States, and committed their help in apprehending him,” said Romankow.
On Aug. 11, 2008, law enforcement officials in Medellin arrested Cleves without incident. After days of surveillance, agents were able to positively identify Cleves as the major heroin trafficker wanted in the United States, authorities said. Cleves was returned to New Jersey last week by the U.S. Marshall’s Service, after extradition orders were approved.
The investigation initially focused on Wilson Valdez of Elizabeth, who was a major heroin and cocaine trafficker in the state. What started as a wiretap of two telephones grew to 54 telephones, and detectives learned that Valdez was only one of at least four or five major traffickers in Union and Essex counties who were allegedly receiving kilogram quantities of heroin from Cleves.
After investigators raided Cleves’ mother’s house in Union, they discovered more than $300,000 in cash. Nidia Roldan, Cleves’ mother, later pled guilty to money laundering.
Even after the arrest of his close associates and family in New Jersey in 2005, Cleves continued to operate his international drug distribution network. Members of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and other law enforcement agencies continued to track his activities and ultimately conducted an additional wiretap in 2007 where Cleves was again identified as the primary source of supply for a New Jersey-based heroin distribution organization, authorities said.
The drugs brought into New Jersey from Colombia were distributed throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, according to prosecutors. It is estimated that Valdez distributed between 3 and 6 kilos of heroin – supplied by Cleves – and significant amounts of cocaine every week.
Some of the intercepted conversations even involved discussions between Cleves and Valdez about hiring a lawyer to represent two of their drug distributors who had been arrested for accepting a shipment of 2.4 kilos of heroin, authorities said.
The investigation also revealed the involvement of a New Jersey State Trooper in the drug ring. Moises Hernandez used his position as an undercover agent for the state to warn Valdez that he was under surveillance.
In April 2006, Hernandez pled guilty to money laundering, witness tampering, conspiracy and official misconduct and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The investigation continued into the conduct of another State Trooper assigned to the Narcotics Unit. Detective Brian Holmes was arrested and later convicted by a jury of first-degree distribution of cocaine for his role in stealing five kilograms of cocaine from a State Police seizure, among other charges, said Romankow.
“This day has been a long time coming,” said Romankow. “A lot of manpower went into the capture of Alejandro Cleves. Now, work begins to ensure he will spend a significant time in jail for his crimes.”
Last September, Cleves was charged with first degree racketeering, first degree conspiracy to commit racketeering, first degree leader of a narcotics trafficking network, second degree financial facilitation of criminal activity (money laundering), and five separate counts of first degree distribution of heroin, said Romankow. If convicted on all the charges, Cleves could face up to 170 years in prison.
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