Atlantic City Task Force Arrests Nineteen Members of Drug Network That Trafficked Heroin from Paterson to Atlantic & Ocean Counties Atlantic City-based network allegedly distributed approximately 30,000 doses of heroin each month

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For Immediate Release: For Further Information:
April 24, 2015

Office of The Attorney General
– John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice
– Elie Honig, Director
Division of State Police
– Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent Media Inquiries-
Peter Aseltine (OAG)
609-292-4791
Capt. Stephen Jones
(State Police)
609-882-2000, x6513

Citizen Inquiries-
609-984-5828

Atlantic City Task Force Arrests Nineteen Members of Drug Network That Trafficked Heroin from Paterson to Atlantic & Ocean Counties Atlantic City-based network allegedly distributed approximately 30,000 doses of heroin each month

ATLANTIC CITY – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced that the Atlantic City Task Force has arrested 19 alleged drug dealers and dismantled a major drug network that trafficked heroin from Paterson into Atlantic and Ocean counties. A 20th defendant is being sought on a warrant.
The arrests are the result of an eight-month investigation by the Atlantic City Task Force (ACTF) which revealed that the drug network was distributing approximately 30,000 doses of heroin per month in Atlantic and Ocean counties, where heroin and prescription pain pills have fueled an epidemic of opiate addiction and overdoses, including many fatal overdoses.
The ACTF is led by the Attorney General’s Office and includes the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey State Police, Atlantic City Police Department, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, Pleasantville Police Department, and New Jersey State Parole Board. This operation also involved the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and other federal, state, county and local law enforcement partners, as outlined below.
The task force has seized 16,000 doses or “bags” of heroin and over $52,000 in cash since April 18, when the partnering agencies began making arrests and executing search warrants in the takedown of the drug network. Ring members allegedly sold heroin containing the deadly cutting agent fentanyl and employed a juvenile to sell heroin. The investigation also revealed that ring members conducted heroin transactions in front of young children, and took public assistance subsidies in exchange for heroin.
“These drug dealers were peddling addiction, misery and death in two of the counties hardest hit by the epidemic of opiate addiction,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Through the outstanding work of the Atlantic City Task Force and its many law enforcement partners, we tracked this criminal enterprise from Atlantic City to Paterson and dismantled it completely. The 16,000 bags of heroin we seized are 16,000 doses that won’t be killing people or destroying lives in Atlantic and Ocean counties, or anywhere else in the State.”
“Since its formation, the Atlantic City Task Force has made nearly 600 arrests, seized dozens of guns, and taken large quantities of heroin, cocaine and meth off the streets of Atlantic City and surrounding communities,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Through strategic investigations of this type, we leverage our resources to protect the public, in this case by cutting off a major pipeline of heroin flowing from the distribution hub of Paterson to Atlantic City.”
“Nothing less than a multi-jurisdictional partnership was needed to dismantle this drug dealing network that operated in various counties throughout the state,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “There is no doubt that the actions of these drug dealers contributed to the downward spiral of those who are plagued by heroin addiction. I commend all of the law enforcement agencies that worked together to shut down this major flow of drugs into our communities.”
On April 18, task force partners arrested three Atlantic County residents who allegedly were the top members of the heroin network, as well as two of their alleged suppliers from Bergen County. Each of these five defendants is charged with first-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute and second-degree conspiracy to distribute heroin:
• Saleem Hamilton, 32, of Atlantic City,
• Helene Gonzalez, 37, of Pleasantville,
• Tarik Hopkins, 33, of Galloway,
• Richard Michilena, 24, of Elmwood Park, and
• Bolivar Delacruz, 38, of Lodi.
Gonzalez also is charged with employing a juvenile to commit a drug offense (2nd degree), endangering the welfare of a child (2nd degree), possession of heroin (3rd degree), possession with intent to distribute within one thousand feet of a school (3rd degree), and theft by deception (food stamp fraud) (3rd degree).
Hamilton, the alleged head of the drug network, was arrested in Atlantic City. Gonzalez and Hopkins, who allegedly were top deputies under Hamilton, were arrested in Paterson at 33rd Street and 13th Avenue, where they allegedly met suppliers Michilena and Delacruz on the night of April 18 to obtain additional heroin for distribution in Atlantic and Ocean counties. Task force members had Gonzalez and Hopkins under surveillance and converged to make arrests after the pair met with Michilena and Delacruz. All five defendants were lodged in the Atlantic County Jail with bail set at $500,000 for each.
During the arrests, investigators seized a purse containing $23,885 in cash that Gonzalez and Hopkins allegedly gave to Delacruz and Michilena to purchase the heroin. Investigators also seized 10,000 single-dose wax paper folds or “bags” of heroin, which were packaged in 200 bundles of 50 known as “bricks.” The heroin was found during execution of a search warrant in a black duffel bag in the back seat of a BMW that Michilina drove to the location. The wax paper folds were stamped with the brand name “Tap Out” in purple ink. An additional $14,575 in cash was later seized from Gonzalez’s home during execution of a search warrant. A search warrant executed at Hamilton’s home led to seizure of $5,904 in cash and about one ounce of marijuana.
The ACTF subsequently executed a series of search and arrest warrants, arresting the 14 additional defendants listed below. A total of nine search warrants were executed, including those executed on April 18. An additional 6,000 wax paper folds of heroin were seized, along with a .32-caliber handgun, 2 ounces of crack cocaine, and another $8,620 in cash, bringing the total cash seizures to $52,984. Six vehicles were seized, including the BMW seized from Michilena and a Cadillac Escalade seized from Hamilton.
An arrest warrant has been issued for one defendant, Travaghn Wood, 34, of Pleasantville, who remains a fugitive. Wood is charged with distribution of heroin (2nd degree), conspiracy (2nd degree), possession of a weapon as a convicted felon (2nd degree), unlawful possession of a weapon (2nd degree), possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (2nd degree) and unlawful sale of a weapon (4th degree).
The investigation was conducted by the Atlantic City Task Force, including law enforcement officers from the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, the Pleasantville Police Department, and the State Parole Board.
The New Jersey State Police units that participated include the Casino Gaming Bureau’s Special Investigation Unit and Financial Crimes Squad, Troop “A” Field Operations, TEAMS South, Central, and North, K-9 South and Central, Gangs & Organized Crime North, Trafficking North and the Regional Operations & Intelligence Center (ROIC).
Deputy Attorney General James Ruberton of the Division of Criminal Justice and Assistant Prosecutor Erik Bergman of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office are the prosecutors assigned to the investigation. Detective Caryn Campanelli of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office was the lead detective.
The following additional law enforcement partners with which the ACTF has collaborative relationships assisted in this investigation:
• Atlantic County Justice Facility
• Atlantic County Probation Division
• Brigantine Beach Police Department
• Hamilton Township Police Department
• Egg Harbor Township Police Department
• Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department
• Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office
• New Jersey Air National Guard
• United States Marshals Service
• ICE Homeland Security Investigations
• U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
• Federal Bureau of Investigation
The following defendants also were arrested in the investigation and charged as indicated:
1. Kevin Moreno, 34, Mays Landing.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin (3rd degree)
Conspiracy to Commit the Forgoing Crimes (3rd degree)
2. Michael Preston, 37, Atlantic City.
Distribution of Heroin (2nd degree)
Possession with Intent to Distribute Within 500 Feet of Public Zone (2nd degree)
Conspiracy to Commit the Forgoing Crimes (2nd degree)
3. Lamont Cooper, 37, Pleasantville.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Within 1,000 feet of a School (3nd degree)
Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin (3rd degree)
Conspiracy to Commit the Forgoing Crimes (3rd degree)
4. Jeffrey Buchanan, 37, Elmer.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin (3rd degree)
Conspiracy to Commit the Forgoing Crimes (3rd degree)
5. Andrew Albanese, 43, Eagleswood.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin (3rd degree)
Conspiracy to Commit the Forgoing Crimes (3rd degree)
6. Johnathan Puggi, 37, Little Egg Harbor Township.
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
7. Peter Pharo, 38, Little Egg Harbor Township.
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
8. Samantha Pharo, 35, Little Egg Harbor Township.
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
9. Corey Leuffgen, 31, Little Egg Harbor Township.
Endangering the Welfare of a Child (2nd degree)
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
10. Chris Kulwein, 32, Little Egg Harbor Township.
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
11. Aimee Higman, 34, Little Egg Harbor Township.
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
12. Lavelle Robinson, 54, Pleasantville.
Conspiracy to Possess Heroin (3rd degree)
13. Kindra Brown, 33, Mays Landing.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin (3rd degree)
Conspiracy to Commit the Forgoing Crimes (3rd degree)
14. Musa Ali, 54, of Atlantic City.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana (3rd degree)
Possession with Intent to Distribute Untaxed Cigarettes (4th degree)
The first-degree heroin charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory minimum term of parole ineligibility of five years, and the other weapons charges carry a mandatory minimum term of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed or 3 ½ years, whichever is greater. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $35,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of $10,000.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The charges will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.
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