NEW BRUNSWICK — An Elizabeth man pleaded guilty to charges of operating a drug trafficking ring that possessed $400,000 worth of heroin destined for distribution to customers in Middlesex and Somerset counties, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan announced today.
Johnel Dunlap, 41, admitted a first degree count of being the leader of a narcotics trafficking network that was shut down on March 26, 2010, following an intensive investigation that ended with the arrest of nine individuals, including Dunlap and two of his top-level distributors.
The nine defendants were arrested following a series of court-ordered searches in which investigators from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, as well as police from local departments including New Brunswick and Franklin Township, seized more than 10 ounces of heroin valued at $400,000.
Dunlap pleaded guilty to the first-degree offense during a hearing at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick before Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz on September 27, 2012.
Dunlap also pleaded guilty to a second-degree statute that prohibits certain persons from possessing firearms. He admitted he had a 9mm pistol during a search of his home and automobiles in Elizabeth on March 26, 2010, even though he previously had been convicted and incarcerated for drug offenses in 2003.
Under the terms of a plea agreement reached with Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D’Elia and Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Akesha Williams, the defendant will be sentenced on Nov. 13, to serve 30 years in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years.
Dunlap was represented during the court hearing by Richard Roberts and Kenyatta K. Stewart, both defense attorneys from Newark.
Also pleading guilty during the hearing were Dunlap’s brother, William Newbill, 32, also of Elizabeth, and Ernest Bates, 36, of New Brunswick.
Newbill and Bates each pleaded guilty to a second-degree count of conspiring to distribute a controlled dangerous substance and a first degree count of distributing heroin. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 3.
Newbill will be sentenced to serve 20 years in a New Jersey state prison and will not be eligible for parole until he serves 62 months.
Bates will be sentenced to an 18-year prison term, with no chance of parole for 50 months.
The drug trafficking ring was initially uncovered during an investigation started by authorities in Somerset County in October 2009.
A Middlesex County grand jury subsequently charged the nine defendants with drug offenses, contending they distributed and conspired to distribute various quantities of heroin to residents in the two counties.
Investigators also determined that Newbill and Bates regularly obtained heroin from Dunlap, and then distributed it to other individuals named in the indictment that was handed up by the grand jury on July 31, 2010.
Since the indictment was handed up, five others named in the true bill have pleaded guilty to various drug offenses and, as part of their plea agreements, were prepared to testify against Dunlap, Newbill and Bates.
In exchange, they will be sentenced to various terms ranging from probation to prison terms for their participation in the drug trafficking ring.