Indictments handed down in gun trafficking conspiracy

Four Philadelphia residents were indicted on charges they trafficked guns into New Jersey as part of a gun ring that led to the shooting death of a toddler in 2019, the state’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Wednesday.

Grewal and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro previously announced that the defendants were arrested on January 27, 2020, but a 57-count grand jury indictment was handed down last week.

Last year’s arrests took down a major Philadelphia-based gun trafficking ring that illegally trafficked numerous guns and methamphetamine into Camden, N.J.

In total, the joint investigation “Operation Zombie” resulted in the recovery of 36 guns and over 20 ounces of methamphetamine – the equivalent of as many as 14,000 individual doses – among other contraband.

Indicted in the scheme are 34-year-old Robert Crosley III —aka “Zombie”— who’s charged with managing the gun trafficking conspiracy that led to the recovery of 36 guns and 20 ounces of methamphetamine — enough for 14,000 individual doses.

Forty-year-old Matthew Zoba is charged with running the drug trafficking conspiracy. Victoria Zipf, 34, is Zoba’s girlfriend and she is charged with acting as a straw purchaser and assisting with gun and drug sales.

Yuri Lyubinskiy, 40, also helped with the gun and drug sales, Grewal said.

A fifth defendant — Michael Snyder, 44, of Philadelphia —was arrested in January 2020, but he died the following month.

The Zombie gang supplied the firearm used in the murder of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera

The Zombie gang was responsible for the murder of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera, who was killed when a gunman fired an AK-47 assault rifle into her family’s home.

A bullet pierced the back of Nikolette’s head and killed her while she was cradled in the arms of her 24-year-old mother, who was shot in the right side of her head and once in the back.

A semi-automatic rifle allegedly sold by the Zombie gang in December has been identified as the gun used in that October 20, 2019 murder.

The mother and a contractor working in the home were seriously wounded.

Two other men were charged in that case, but the firearm was not recovered until the Zombie gang was dismantled. The assailants were allegedly targeting the child’s father when they fired at the house.

Another firearm– a 9mm handgun –allegedly sold by the Zombie gang has been linked to a September 2019 shooting in Philadelphia in which no one was hit.

From March 2019 to January 2020, members of the ring sold 16 guns in the Camden, New Jersey, area, including six military-style rifles, 10 handguns and two outlawed large-capacity magazines, according to the attorney general.

An additional 20 guns were seized during arrests, including an Uzi as well as three partial sticks of dynamite. Methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana plants and crack cocaine were also recovered.

The indictment charges Crosley and Zoba with first-degree promoting organized street crime. They’re are also charged with first-degree distribution of methamphetamine.

All four defendants are charged with second-degree conspiracy in connection with the gun trafficking and second-degree transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale.

They are also all charged with second-degree conspiracy in connection with the drug trafficking. There are also numerous weapons charges

“Operation Zombie” was conducted by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office—Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), New Jersey State Police, Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and the Philadelphia Police Department.

“This indictment is an important next step in our prosecution of these alleged prolific interstate gun and drug traffickers,” said Grewal. “Through our collaborative investigation Operation Zombie, we removed over 30 guns from our streets, including several linked to violence in the region, as well as large quantities of methamphetamine. We made our communities safer on both sides of the Delaware River. We are continuing our interstate collaboration and intelligence sharing to tackle the iron pipeline of illegal guns crossing into New Jersey.”

“This interstate collaboration is taking crime guns off of streets of both Philadelphia and Camden and making our communities safer,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Too many families have been broken by gun violence. Too many communities have been hurt by this epidemic. We must work together, share intelligence, and utilize all necessary resources to get these weapons off the streets and out of the hands of criminals.”

“We are aggressively investigating and prosecuting the criminal profiteers who capitalize on the ready market for illegal guns on the streets of New Jersey,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to work with the New Jersey State Police and all of our federal, state, county, and local partners to stop the illicit flow of lethal firepower into our communities.”

“It is not hyperbole when we say that those who work in weapons and narcotics trafficking are dealing in death and destruction. The senseless violence and addiction that go hand-in-hand with guns and drugs not only claim the lives of the innocent, but they also leave the victims’ families, friends, and communities devastated and broken,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The stakes could not be higher, and we could not be more resolute in our efforts to dismantle violent weapons and trafficking networks through cooperative investigations like ‘Operations Zombie,’ which led to today’s important indictments.”

“In our fight against violent crime, every illegal gun taken off the street is a small victory, and every gun trafficker locked up is a big one,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “People should be able to leave their homes without feeling like they’ve stepped into a war zone. But those who profit from selling guns and drugs have no regard for the incredible damage they’re doing. The FBI and our partners are committed to working together across jurisdictions to take down the criminals wreaking such havoc in our communities.”

“The prevalence of illegal guns and drugs in Philadelphia is one of the primary reasons why gun violence has become such a problem in recent years,” said Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Jennifer Arbittier Williams. “Our office is committed to using all of our available resources and working with partners in our District and elsewhere to address this scourge on our city and region.”

“This investigation once again shows us the connection between drugs and guns,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New Jersey Division Susan A. Gibson. “The number of weapons and amount of methamphetamine seized during this investigation more than likely led to lives being saved from overdose or gun violence. These four defendants profited on the misery of others, and the DEA and our partners will continue to collaborate to make our communities safer.”

ATF Newark Field Division Special Agent in Charge Charlie J. Patterson said: “The results of this investigation reveal criminals have no haven when law enforcement agencies collaborate. ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) continues to connect crime guns with crime scenes and our Firearms Tracing System continues to hold straw purchasers accountable. As such, ATF Newark will continue to be a vital partner with our fellow local, state, and federal agencies in the fight against violent crime in our communities.”

Crosley was arrested in Camden on Jan. 22, 2020 when he allegedly arrived to sell guns and drugs. He was in possession of an AR-15 rifle, a large-capacity magazine, three shotguns, including a sawed-off shotgun, two handguns, 4 ounces of methamphetamine, and illegal hollow-nose bullets.

The investigation revealed that Crosley allegedly obtained guns illegally by paying “straw purchasers” to buy guns in Pennsylvania at dealerships and gun shows. He allegedly texted customers to make arrangements to sell guns and/or methamphetamine. He allegedly texted photos showing guns he had for sale and setting prices ranging as high as $2,200 for an AR-15 style rifle.

Zoba also allegedly arranged deals for guns and drugs via texts or phone calls. Once Crosley or Zoba reached a deal, they made arrangements to deliver the guns or drugs to Camden. Sometimes Crosley and Zoba traveled together, or one of them would be driven by Lyubiniskiy or Zipf.

As a result of the multi-agency investigation, Zipf and two other individuals – Shawn Roche and Hadi Mufti (aka Hadi Moft) – have been arrested and charged in Pennsylvania for allegedly acting as straw purchasers of firearms for the weapons trafficking ring. They are being prosecuted on those charges by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Deputy Attorney General Jaclyn Poulton presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Cassandra Montalto, Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, and DCJ Deputy Director Annmarie Taggart.

Detective Sgt. Garrett Cullen is the lead detective for the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime South Unit, under the supervision of Detective Sgt. First Class Gregg Ogden, Lt. Thomas DeVirgilis, Captain Michael Flory, and Major Michael Kane.

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