TRENTON – Twenty-five alleged drug dealers were arrested today in the takedown of a major narcotics distribution network with ties to the Ñetas that was dealing large quantities of heroin in the area of 4th and Royden streets in Camden, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced. Arrest warrants were issued for 41 people, including 28 alleged members of the network and 13 other alleged drug dealers from outside the network who were charged as a result of the investigation.
Beginning early today, a multi-agency force fanned out across Camden to make arrests. By 11 a.m., 25 defendants were in custody, and 16 others were being sought on warrants. The charges stem from Operation Billboard, a nine-month investigation led by the Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Camden City Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Today’s arrests include the alleged leader of the network, Noel Gonzalez, 43, of Camden, a reputed member of the Ñetas, who is charged with leading a narcotics trafficking network, a first-degree crime that carries a sentence of life in prison, including 25 years without parole. Gonzalez and 27 other alleged members of his organization, including his top deputies, are charged with first-degree racketeering. That charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, including a period of parole ineligibility under the No Early Release Act equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed.
The narcotics network was dealing up to tens of thousands of dollars in heroin per week. In addition to Gonzalez, the alleged leaders of the network include other members of the Ñetas and Latin Kings street gangs. Nine defendants have been charged in the past with violent crimes or weapons offenses. The 13 alleged drug dealers from outside of the network who were charged in Operation Billboard include two men from the “Top 10” list of violent offenders in Camden compiled by law enforcement authorities: Joseph Serrano, 30, aka “Joey Crack,” and Kevin Hannah, 47, aka “ICU.” The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is pursuing suspected links, developed through this investigation, between this drug network and several unsolved homicides in Camden.
“The culture of violence in our cities is rooted in a culture of drug dealing. With investigations such as this one, we are taking aim at the primary threat to the safety and quality of life of Camden residents,” said Chiesa. “We charge that Noel Gonzalez, a reputed Ñetas member, led a highly structured heroin network that tightly controlled its territory in the violence-torn neighborhood around 4th and Royden Streets. With these arrests, we have dismantled his criminal enterprise and taken additional violent offenders from outside of his network off of the street.”
“The value of long-term investigations such as Operation Billboard is that they enable us to take down the upper echelons of drug networks, not just the lower-level dealers who conduct hand-to-hand transactions on the street,” said Stephen J. Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By building a strong racketeering case, we can put these criminals in prison for a long time.”
“The takedown today and the investigation leading up to it are further examples of the day-to-day cooperation among all levels of law enforcement operating in the city and the county,” said Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk. “We expect that information obtained from this investigation will lead to additional arrests for other serious crimes.”
“Residents in the area where these thugs have been operating are tired of having their lives negatively defined by the threat of flagrant drug dealing and daytime shootings,” said Chief John S. Thomson of the Camden City Police Department. “This takedown will bring welcome relief for the good people of these neighborhoods, who want security and peace for their families. I thank Attorney General Chiesa for joining forces with us to make Camden safer.”
The investigation alleged that Noel Gonzalez ran a large-scale drug distribution network that was supplying at least four open-air drug “sets” dealing heroin at the following locations:
4th and Royden Streets,
West and Royden Streets,
Royden and Henry Streets,
4th and Spruce Streets.
The network also allegedly conducted drug deals at numerous locations in the surrounding area.
The network had a hierarchy with well-defined roles including “case workers,” “set managers,” “trappers,” and “runners.” Case workers were responsible for day-to-day operation of the network’s drug distribution activities, including the alleged transfer of narcotics and proceeds to and from Gonzalez and street-level set managers. Set managers insulated the case workers and the upper echelons of the network from the street level “trappers” or dealers. Trappers conducted hand-to-hand exchanges of narcotics and currency involving buyers of the network’s heroin. Runners re-supplied the trappers with heroin.
The finances of the network were built around selling “bundles” of heroin. A bundle consists of approximately 14 bags – small wax paper folds stamped with a brand – with each bag being sold for $10, giving each bundle a street value of approximately $140. The first 10 bags sold, or the first $100, from each bundle allegedly went directly to Gonzalez. The case workers received the $10 in proceeds from the eleventh bag of each bundle sold by the set managers. It is believed that the set managers and trappers divided the $30 from the last three bags sold from each bundle. The number of bundles a set manager was permitted to handle at one time was based on their reliability as determined by network leaders. Along with their duties of managing set managers, the case workers also sold drugs to purchasers who bought multiple bundles of heroin.
The arrested individuals were lodged in the Camden County Jail. Bails for the alleged members of the network were set at $300,000 to $1.5 million. Authorities executed search warrants at Gonzalez’s residence in the 1200 block of Collings Road and four other residences. During the arrests and searches, authorities seized approximately three-quarters of a kilo of heroin; approximately $52,000 in cash; about $20,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency, and a .40-caliber handgun. In addition, orders were obtained to seize and restrain 17 vehicles belonging to Gonzalez and other members of his network.
As is the case with all criminal charges, the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
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