ELIZABETH — After nearly three years on the run, the kingpin of a notorious drug ring that was responsible for bringing upwards of $250 million worth of heroin each year into the United States pled guilty inside a Union County courtroom, announced Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow.
Romankow said Alejandro Cleves annually imported 250 kilograms (550 lbs) of heroin before law enforcement officials broke up the drug distribution network.
Cleves was arrested on Aug. 11, 2008 without incident by law enforcement officials in Medellin, Colombia, and he was returned to New Jersey last year in July by the U.S. Marshall’s Service, after extradition orders were approved.
Cleves, 30, was born in Medellin, but moved to Union County when he was 7-years-old and remained here until he fled to South America in 2003 to avoid prosecution on drug distribution charges.
Cleves faces 32 years in prison when he is sentenced on July 23, 2010.
Nidia Roldan, Cleves’ mother, pled guilty to money laundering after investigators raided her house in Union and discovered more than $300,000 in cash.
Romankow and two of his staff members traveled to Colombia in 2008 with Special Agent in Charge Gerard P. McAleer of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey office to discuss apprehension with Colombian Attorney General Iguaran Arana, General Oscar Naranjo, of the Colombian National Police and DEA Regional Director Jay Bergman.
The investigation initially focused on Wilson Valdez of Elizabeth, who was a major heroin and cocaine trafficker.
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 receiving kilogram quantities of heroin from Cleves.
Authorities also learned that Cleves’ distribution network operated throughout various parts of the United States.
“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.
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.
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