ELIZABETH — Alejandro Cleves who served as the kingpin of a notorious drug ring that was responsible for bringing upwards of 250 kilos heroin into the United States annually, pled guilty in court yesterday to a charge of 1st degree leader of a narcotics trafficking network.
Prosecutor Theodore J. Romanow, who spent several years working with the Colombian government to secure Cleves’ arrest, announced the plea.
Cleves, 30, 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, when he fled to South America, to avoid prosecution on drug distribution charges.
After nearly three years on the run, he was arrested by Colombian officials in August 2008.
Under the terms of the plea, Cleves faces 32 years in prison when he is sentenced on July 23. Assistant Prosecutor Jo-Ann Miller handled the case.
In early 2005, the Union County Prosecutors Office in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted one of the largest and most successful wiretaps in New Jersey law enforcement history—a wiretap investigation that resulted in 21 people being charged under indictment. It was through those investigations that police learned the existence and identity of Cleves.
The cases concerning all other co-defendants have resulted in convictions with sentences of up to 24 years in prison.
The street level for each kilo was worth roughly $1 million, 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.
In fact, Prosecutor Romankow traveled to Colombia in 2008 and discussed apprehension efforts with the Colombian Attorney General, members of the of the Colombian National Police members of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration based in Colombia.
“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.
The break came on Aug. 11, 2008 when Cleves was arrested without incident by law enforcement officials in Medellin. After days of surveillance, agents were able to positively identify Cleves as the major heroin trafficker wanted in the United States.
The investigation initially focused on Wilson Valdez of Elizabeth, New Jersey, 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 Wilson Valdez was only one of at least four or five major traffickers in Union and Essex Counties who were receiving kilogram quantities of heroin from Cleves. Additionally, it was learned that Cleves’ distribution network operated throughout various parts of the United States.
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, Alejandro 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 Alejandro Cleves was again identified as the primary source of supply for a New Jersey based heroin distribution organization.
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 during his dubious tenure.
The wiretap investigation was conducted with the full support and cooperation of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and the Colombian Attorney General’s Office and the results were beneficial to all.
“The wiretap allowed us to identify the Colombian source of supply and the methods of importation into the United States,” said Romankow.
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.
The wiretap was originated through leads developed by Union County Prosecutor’s Office. During the four months the wiretap was in effect, over 60 detectives from the UCPO and other federal, state and local agencies monitored the conversations around the clock.
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. I am pleased that he will spend a significant amount of time in jail for his crimes.”
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