Avenel Man Charged In Scheme To Smuggle Cell Phones & Drugs Into State Prison

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NEWARK – A former corrections officer from Avenel was one of 35 people indicted on charges that they allegedly conspired to smuggle pre-paid cell phones and drugs into Northern State Prison in Newark, Attorney General Paula T. Dow announced today.

The state grand jury indictments were obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice as a result of Operation Empire, an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Department of Corrections.

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Former corrections officer Luis S. Roman, 47, allegedly made thousands of dollars by using a network of inmates to solicit customers and distribute the contraband he smuggled into the prison, authorities said. The inmates allegedly had family members or friends outside the prison who acted as accomplices by buying phones and drugs and packaging them for delivery to Roman. Inmates allegedly paid for the items by having money wired to Roman’s wife or another accomplice on the outside.

According to Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice, Roman and 18 other defendants who distributed contraband in prison or acted as accomplices outside the prison are charged in a single indictment with racketeering and conspiracy, both in the second degree.

The indictment also charges all but one of those defendants with second-degree bribery and third-degree money laundering. Roman is charged with second-degree official misconduct. The racketeering charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in state prison, which would be consecutive to the sentences for any underlying offenses.

Another 16 inmates who allegedly bought contraband are charged in 16 separate indictments.

“We know that narcotics and cell phones are smuggled into our prisons, and that inmates use these phones to direct gang activities and make arrangements to get more contraband,” said Dow. “What those who are responsible for this smuggling need to know is that we are going to catch them and we are going to come down hard on them.”

“While we allege that Roman attempted to conceal his identity from most of the inmates who distributed the cell phones and drugs that he smuggled, he ultimately was caught in his own criminal web,” said Taylor. “All of the threads of evidence led back to him as the alleged leader of this scheme and the source of the contraband.”

“Even one corrupt correction officer smuggling phones and drugs into a secure prison can jeopardize safety in the whole facility. Investigations have shown that cell phones in prisons have been tied to ‘hits’ being ordered on witnesses and law enforcement personnel. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to arrest anyone involved in this organized criminal activity,” said Major Matt Wilson, Commanding Officer of the State Police Intelligence Section.

“I’d like to thank everyone from the law enforcement community, including the Department of Corrections’ Special Investigation Division, who played a part in securing these indictments,” said Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan. “I find it appalling that a correction officer would place his co-workers as well as the community-at-large in danger by smuggling contraband into a secure facility for his personal profit. This is yet another example of why passage of H.R. 560, the Safe Prisons Communications Act, which would permit cell phone jamming in prisons, is so critically important. Passed by the U.S. Senate unanimously and endorsed by Governor Christie and law enforcement officials throughout the country, this legislation would effectively transform cell phones into a 4-ounce piece of garbage in a prison setting.”

The racketeering indictment was returned on Sept. 15 but sealed by the court until yesterday. The other indictments were returned yesterday. Roman was jailed after his arrest last November, but posted $100,000 bail in August and remains free. Arrest warrants were issued for the other 18 defendants in the racketeering indictment, with bail set at amounts ranging from $100,000 to $200,000. Most of them have been arrested, authorities said.

Roman allegedly smuggled contraband into the prison several times a week, including pre-paid cell phones, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, hiding the items in his protective vest and boots.

The Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division began looking into the possibility of a correction officer or other prison worker smuggling contraband into Northern State Prison after numerous wireless phones of the same makes and models were confiscated from inmates.

The joint investigation by the State Police and the Department of Corrections began in July 2009. The indictment alleges Roman’s smuggling continued from at least August 2007 to Nov. 14, 2009, when he was arrested with his wife. Roman was assigned to the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel in 2007, and he allegedly engaged in smuggling there too.

Ann Marie Roman, 36, of Keasbey, who now is divorced from Luis Roman, pleaded guilty on Sept. 14 before Superior Court Judge Frederick P. DeVesa to second-degree conspiracy to commit bribery. She admitted that, at her husband’s direction, she received thousands of dollars through Western Union and Money Gram as payment to him for smuggled items. The state will recommend that she be sentenced in the third-degree range of three to five years in state prison.

Roman allegedly used two trusted inmates at Northern State Prison as his organizers or middle men. Those inmates, Angel Vasquez, 53, and Willie Wade, 46, in turn allegedly employed numerous other inmates as distributors to canvass the prison for customers.

The customers agreed to pay a fee for the contraband, authorities allege. For example, if an inmate wanted a pre-paid cell phone, he would have to pay up to $400, plus an additional $200 as a “shipment fee.” At each level of the organization, middle-men and distributors received a certain amount of money, but Roman allegedly kept the majority of the profits. Family members of inmate customers were allegedly instructed to wire money to Ann Marie Roman, who used her prior married name, Ann Marie Hernandez, or to defendant Justiniano Vazquez, 61, of the Bronx, N.Y.

Authorities allege that distributor inmates were required to have trusted outside sources, preferably women, with access to drugs. Once orders were taken, it was the responsibility of distributor inmates to contact their outside sources by cell phone to have them assemble packages of narcotics and pre-paid cell phones along with any “shipment fees,” which were additional cash bribes allegedly required by Roman.

Inmates would allegedly communicate with each other using “kites,” small pieces of scrap paper that could easily be passed from inmate to inmate. After packages were assembled, the middle men would allegedly contact Roman with information about the outside sources he was to meet.

Once the contraband was smuggled in, Roman allegedly would pass it along to his middle men, who would give it to the distributor inmates, frequently kitchen and laundry workers, who would distribute the contraband throughout different areas of the prison. Roman allegedly knew the identities of the distributor inmates, but he had no direct contact with most of them.

When Luis and Ann Marie Roman were arrested on Nov. 14, 2009, search warrants were executed at their residences in Avenel and Keasbey, allegedly yielding documentary and physical evidence of his smuggling activities. Evidence was also seized during searches of inmates’ cells. Detectives obtained records from Western Union and Money Gram that detail thousands of dollars in transactions allegedly related to the smuggling scheme.

The investigation was led by Detective Timothy Hackett and Detective Sgt. Dennis Buoye of the New Jersey State Police Street Gang North Unit, and Principal Investigator Scott Russo, Senior Investigator Michael Kubik and Senior Investigator Omar Howard of the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division.

Supervising Deputy Attorney General Andrew M. Butchko and Deputy Attorneys General Cassandra Serentino, Daniel Bornstein and Julia S. Glass prepared and presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.

The following defendants are charged in the racketeering indictment:

Alleged Leader

1. Luis Roman

Alleged Inmate Organizers/Middle Men

2. Angel Vasquez
3. Willie Wade

Alleged Recipient of Wired Funds

4. Justiniano Vazquez

Alleged Inmate Distributors

5. Alvin Blankson, 31
6. Dwayne Mann, 43
7. Johnny Jones, 36
8. Leander Williams, 39
9. Malik Teel, 31
10. Quadir Barnes, 31
11. Stacey Moore, 29

Outside Sources for Distributors (allegedly delivered cell phones and drugs to Roman)

12. Tracy Mainor, 46, of Jersey City
13. Rozzion Fox (man), 24, North Brunswick
14. Yakyra Hickson, 28, Nutley
15. Nyantee Davis, 25, Avenel
16. Chez Hodges, 30, Newark
17. Tynisha Moore, 35, of Newark
18. Alicia Holloway, 43, of Bronx, N.Y.
19. Shanta Barnes, 24, of East Orange.

Rozzion Fox is the only defendant charged in the racketeering indictment who is not charged with second-degree bribery and third-degree money laundering.

The following inmates are charged in 16 separate indictments as customers of the smuggling operation. (Where indicated, the defendants were inmates at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel. The others were inmates at Northern State Prison.)

Alleged Inmate Customers

20. Lonnie Daniels, 48
21. Serafin DeGarcia, 32 (Avenel)
22. Vincent Heredia, 34
23. Roberto Lascano, 24
24. Abdul Mumin, 41 (Avenel)
25. Fateen Powell, 32
26. Angel Rivera, 33
27. Dawud Thompson, 30
28. Rotimi Washington, 36
29. Sharrod Hardgrove, 34
30. Allen Rivera, 30
31. Earlest Gordon, 40
32. Michael Bordo, 34 (Avenel)
33. Jesse Gallagher, 37
34. Kevin Robinson, 39
35. Julio Bruno, 30

All of the inmate customers are charged with second-degree conspiracy and second-degree bribery, with the exception of Angel Rivera and Earlest Gordon, who are charged with second-degree conspiracy and third-degree unlawful possession of a cell phone in prison.

Luis Roman is charged with numerous counts of second-degree bribery and numerous counts of third-degree money laundering. He is also charged with three counts of second-degree unlawful transfer of a cell phone in a state prison and one count of fourth-degree distribution of marijuana.

Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a $150,000 fine; third-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and fourth-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The racketeering charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, which would be consecutive to the sentences for any underlying offenses. The second-degree official misconduct charge against Roman carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison, including five years without possibility of parole. The indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictments were handed up to Superior Court Judge Edward M. Neafsey in Mercer County, who assigned them to Middlesex County.


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