TRENTON, N.J. – Thirty-six individuals – including two top leaders and six upper-level managers – have been indicted as alleged participants in a major narcotics network with ties to the Ñetas street gang. The charges stem from an investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, working collaboratively with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The indictment stems from Operation Billboard, an investigation which revealed the dealing of large quantities of heroin in Camden, N.J.
Most of the defendants were arrested May 30, 2012, when law enforcement took down this criminal organization. The indictment was returned Jan. 9, 2013, but sealed until Friday, pending efforts to arrest additional defendants.
The alleged senior leaders of the narcotics network include Noel Gonzalez, aka "Noel Ripoll," 43, of Camden, a reputed member of the Ñetas; and his alleged partner Michael Rivera, aka "Bute," 29, of Camden. Both are charged with leading a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a possible sentence of life in prison.
The investigation has revealed that Gonzalez and Rivera ran a large-scale drug distribution network that was dealing up to tens of thousands of dollars in heroin per week. In addition to Gonzalez and Rivera, the leadership of the network includes other members of the Ñetas and Latin Kings street gangs. The network allegedly possessed guns and employed violence to protect its territory.
The 39-count indictment charges all 36 defendants with first-degree racketeering and second-degree conspiracy. The racketeering charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.
Twenty-five defendants are charged with first-degree distribution of narcotics and/or first-degree possession of narcotics with the intent to distribute. They face 10 to 20 years in prison on those charges.
Rivera is also charged with possession of a handgun as a convicted felon, which carries a mandatory sentence of five years in prison. Many defendants also face various other drug charges.
"The assault on our communities by criminal drug trafficking organizations must end," said Andrew McLees, special agent in charge of HSI Newark. "HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to use our collective resources to bring these individuals to justice."
"We sent investigators into the area surrounding 4th and Royden Streets because it has been a hotbed of violence, including daytime shootings," said New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa. "By identifying this large, well-organized criminal enterprise and targeting the organization from top to bottom with a first-degree racketeering indictment, we're taking strong aim at the drug dealing that is fueling violence and destroying the lives of residents in this section of Camden. These defendants will face lengthy prison sentences without parole if convicted of the charges against them."
"This indictment is a testament to the strong working relationships we have forged with the Camden Police Department, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and our other law enforcement partners to aggressively investigate drug and weapons trafficking in the city," said Director Stephen J. Taylor, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. "With these proactive investigations, we seek to have a larger impact in critical sectors of Camden, in order to assist local and county law enforcement in their day-to-day efforts to prevent violence and solve crimes."
A number of the defendants have been charged in the past with violent crimes or weapons offenses. It is alleged that the narcotics network led by Gonzalez and Rivera supplied and controlled at least four open-air drug "sets" dealing heroin.
The network also allegedly conducted drug deals at numerous locations in the surrounding area. The network allegedly sold heroin stamped with brand names that included "A+," "Major League," "Hot Party," "El Tiger" and "Ice Cream."
The network had a hierarchy with well-defined roles, including "case workers," "set managers" and "trappers." Case workers, also called "runners," served as upper-level managers, coordinating the enterprise's drug sales while on duty. They were responsible for handing out bundles of heroin to the lower-level set managers and trappers, and returning proceeds from the drug sales to Gonzalez and Rivera. They provided a layer of insulation for the leaders, working near but not at the set locations where street-level transactions were conducted.
Other law enforcement agencies assisting in the investigation include: Camden Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor's Office and New Jersey State Police. Assistance was also provided by the Audubon Police Department and the Haddon Township Police Department.