TRENTON – Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor today announced charges against 40 people as a result of an investigation into a drug distribution network linked to the Bloods street gang that operated in two violent Newark neighborhoods. The investigation, which resulted in arrests of the leaders of the ring, also uncovered smuggling of cell phones and drugs into Northern State Prison.
The charges stem from Operation Red Storm, an 18-month investigation led by the Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Boonton Police Department, Newark Police Department, New Jersey Department of Corrections and New Jersey State Police.
Detectives and officers of the Division of Criminal Justice, Newark Police Department, Boonton Police and Department of Corrections arrested 19 individuals yesterday at various locations. Ten other defendants were arrested previously in the investigation. Another 11 defendants are being sought on arrest warrants or summonses. Detectives have seized more than 250 “bricks” of heroin, over a kilogram of cocaine, more than $60,000 in cash, four semi-automatic handguns, an assault rifle, and four vehicles.
The investigation focused on a network that was distributing heroin and cocaine in two sections of Newark: the Fabyan Avenue area and the “Chadwick Corridor” including Avon and Chadwick Avenues. The Chadwick Corridor has been identified by the Newark Police Department as one of the most violent districts in the city. Among those arrested are two Newark men alleged to be leaders of the network: Ameer Thompson, 28, and Cardeia “Fatboy” Harrell, 33. The investigation also resulted in charges against a cook employed at Northern State Prison, Elijah Harris, 35, of Newark, and an inmate, Norman Willie Wade, 45, who allegedly were smuggling drugs and cell phones into the prison to sell to inmates.
“We have arrested the alleged leaders and numerous other members of a drug network linked to the Bloods, which used guns to control its turf in two particularly violent sections of Newark,” said Attorney General Dow. “Our goal in taking down this criminal network is to disrupt its drug trafficking activities and make these neighborhoods safer.”
“This is another great example of an intelligence-led investigation involving cooperation among state and local law enforcement agencies,” said Director Taylor. “We will continue to make such investigations a priority in our efforts to combat drug trafficking and violent street gangs.”
“I commend the dedicated and cooperative efforts of all the law enforcement agencies that took part in this exhaustive investigation,” said Director Garry McCarthy of the Newark Police Department. “Today’s arrests are another step toward ridding our city of violent, habitual offenders who have little regard for the law or the neighborhoods they attempt to control,” he concluded.
“I commend the law enforcement agencies whose collaborative efforts throughout this investigation led to these charges,” said Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan of the Department of Corrections. “Bringing a cell phone – not to mention narcotics – into a prison is rightfully classified as a criminal offense, and the individuals responsible have been appropriately charged. This is just the latest example of why the passage of the Safe Prisons Communication Act, which would allow cell phone jamming in prisons under specific circumstances, is so critically important. Passage of the bill would mean that even if an inmate managed to acquire a cell phone, it would be useless in a prison setting.”
“Operation Red Storm was a first class undertaking from start to finish,” said Boonton Police Chief Mike Beltran. “It is an outstanding example of teamwork among law enforcement agencies large and small in engaging drug trafficking activity that affected not only Newark but suburban regions also. The Boonton Police Department was glad to participate in the success of the operation. We thank Detective Renshaw and the other members of the Division of Criminal Justice team who worked with our detective on the case. Their professionalism and work ethic made the difference.”
Thompson was arrested today. He is charged with first-degree offenses, including leading a narcotics trafficking network, distribution of narcotics, and conspiracy to distribute narcotics. The charge of leading a narcotics trafficking network carries a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison. Harrell is charged with distribution of narcotics and possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, both in the second degree.
Harrell was arrested on June 10 along with Aaron Watson, 33, of Newark, as the two men allegedly met to conduct a drug transaction. Watson allegedly had 171 grams of cocaine and two bricks of heroin in a hidden compartment in his vehicle, along with bylaws and other documents related to the Brick City Brims set of the Bloods. He allegedly had $2,000 on his person. Harrell allegedly had $2,304 on his person, and $8,000 in a hidden compartment of his car.
A search warrant was executed that day at Watson’s apartment, where detectives allegedly seized approximately a kilo of cocaine, 12 bricks of heroin, $40,255 in cash, a scale and narcotics packaging materials. Watson is charged with first-degree offenses of distribution of narcotics and possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. Search warrants were executed at eight other locations. Arrests made yesterday resulted in the recovery of additional drugs, three handguns, one assault rifle and $6,000 in cash.
Elijah Harris was arrested on June 11 by members of the New Jersey Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division and New Jersey State Police. Harris is charged with bribery, official misconduct, conspiracy to distribute heroin, and providing a cell phone to a prison inmate, all second-degree offenses.
Wade is charged with second-degree conspiracy for allegedly conspiring with Harris to distribute narcotics and cell phones in the prison.
A Newark woman who is employed as a state corrections officer at Northern State Prison, Gale Bishop, 53, is charged with second-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute. The charge relates to alleged conduct that occurred outside of the prison.
The remaining defendants are charged with second- and third-degree offenses of drug distribution or possession with intent to distribute. A full list of the defendants and charges is attached to this release.
You don’t see this every day huh? Females being arrested for major drug crimes. This case will be very interesting for a number of different reasons.
First off, the attorneys for the adults will have to hook up with the attorneys for the juveniles. The State will try to waive the juveniles up to adult court and this will be done before the adult cases go anywhere. The attorneys are going to get a free crack at some of the detectives that testify at the waiver hearing. It will help everyone if they all work together. The best part is, assuming all juveniles can be waived, there will be 12 waiver hearings so each hearing should build on the last one. Rarely do attorneys get such an opportunity to create so much discovery so early.
Second, as an attorney for the big fish, you just have to know that some of the little fish will flip at some point, especially if they have bad attorneys. However, the charges are so serious that a few small fish testifying against your client may not be the end of the world.
Third, the discovery in this case is going to be massive. Making sure that you have everything is going to take quite a while. The more cooks in the kitchen, the messier things can get.
In other words, sounds like a fun case. Some attorneys hate a lot of work, but this is what I live for. The plea offer will probably be pretty high so why not take the next two or three years and fight the case?
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Drug Ring Directed by Female Gang Leaders Dismantled
Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration/New Jersey Division Gerard McAleer, Statewide Director of Gangs, Guns and Violent Crime Control Strategies Jose Cordero, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, East Orange Police Chief Ron Borgo, and Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy today announced the arrest of 43 gang members and their associates, in connection with the dismantling of a female-led gang that was trafficking narcotics in Newark, East Orange, Orange, and Montclair.
The investigation was part of the statewide anti-gang initiative coordinated by the Attorney General’s Office in connection with the Governor’s Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods.
Initiated in January 2009, the joint investigation dubbed “Operation Bloodette” traced an elaborate PCP, cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana distribution ring that sold significant quantities of drugs to gang members and their associates of the 464 PIRU and Sex Money Murder sets of the Bloods. Undercover detectives from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Gang and Narcotics VIPER Unit, East Orange, Newark, Montclair and Orange police departments, along with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recovered narcotics including: 62 ounces of PCP, 13.3 grams of heroin (266 decks), 54 grams of cocaine, and 36 grams of marijuana, with a total estimated street value of $133,000. In addition, four fully-loaded handguns, 138 rounds of ammunition, and more than $21,000 in cash were seized. It is alleged that the operation was distributing more than $50,000 worth of narcotics per week or more than $2.6 million per year.
The alleged ring leaders, Iyesha Harrison, 25, of East Orange, and Tyesha Stephens, 30, of Newark, were orchestrating the operation primarily from two locations: the South Orange Ave. vicinity bordering East Orange and Newark, and Stephens’ apartment on Elizabeth Ave. in Newark. On July 13, defendant Harrison was arrested and charged with leader of a narcotics trafficking network (first degree), distribution of CDS (third degree), distribution of CDS within 1,000 ft of a school (third degree), conspiracy to distribute CDS (second degree), and employing a juvenile to distribute CDS (second degree). On June 15, defendant Stephens was arrested and charged with possession of CDS (third degree), possession of CDS with intent to distribute (first degree), possession of CDS with intent to distribute within 1,000 ft of a school (third degree), possession of CDS with intent to distribute within 500 ft. of public housing (second degree), and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child (second degree). Both women are being held in the Essex County Jail. Bail for both was set at $300,000.
Of the 43 defendants arrested, 12 are juveniles and 31 are alleged to be gang members and/or associates.
“With these arrests, we have dismantled a drug ring led by two female members of the Bloods that was dealing more than $50,000 a week in PCP, cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana,” said Attorney General Anne Milgram. “While the threat posed to our communities by these criminal enterprises is the same whether they are led by men or women, it is disturbing that gangs have evolved to exert the same destructive control over the lives of young women that they have over young men, enlisting them in deadly violence.”
These criminal charges are mere accusations. Defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Nicholas F. Monteaperto of New Brunswick, Jason Cable of Somerset, and Earl Bowers of Somerset were arrested in Hackensack, New Jersey while attempting to allegedly distribute two pounds of suspected marijuana to an undercover detective for $13,000.00. How three people can all attempt to sell the same two pounds of pot is unknown.
This was a result of a joint investigation conducted by the Hackensack Police Department and members of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotic Task Force. It was probably going on for a while, but these guys don’t seem like your average dealers. Normally, police make a couple actual buys. To bust them at the first buy makes me think that the police didn’t expect them to sell again.
Story is here.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
STATE OF NEW JERSEY,
HAMID A. SHABAZZ,
Submitted February 2, 2009 – Decided
Before Judges Carchman and Simonelli.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Indictment No. 05-05-0638.
Yvonne Smith Segars, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Winnie E. Ihemaguba, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
James F. Avigliano, Passaic County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Steven E. Braun, Chief Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Following a jury trial, defendant Hamid A. Shabazz was convicted of third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1); two counts of third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and b(3); and two counts of third-degree distribution of controlled dangerous substance within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a.1 The trial judge sentenced defendant to two concurrent five-year terms in prison with a three-year parole disqualifier, as well as statutory penalties, fines and license suspension. Defendant appeals, and we now affirm.
These are the facts adduced at trial. On February 25, 2005, at 11:00 a.m., Sergeant Samuel Rivera, a thirteen-year veteran of the Passaic Police Department, was performing a narcotics surveillance operation in the area of 49 Pine Street, a location within 1,000 feet of Public School No. 7 in Passaic. The operation itself was divided into two teams, the surveillance officer and the backup team, which would stop and detain any suspects involved in a narcotics transaction observed by Sergeant Rivera. During the operation, Sergeant Rivera was performing the surveillance while Detectives Juan Clavijo, Tamika Santiago, Reynaldo Arroyo, Larson, LeConte and Cassiano2 were acting as backup. Sergeant Rivera had been in that area since 6:00 a.m. and was situated twenty or twenty-five feet away from 49 Pine Street.
During his surveillance, Sergeant Rivera observed Anthony Haskins near the porch of 49 Pine Street and also observed defendant in the alley between 53 and 55 Pine Street. At approximately 11:00 a.m. a third individual, Michael Dennis, approached the area wearing a blue knit cap, a winter vest-type jacket and blue jeans. Dennis had a brief conversation with Haskins in front of 49 Pine Street. Haskins then proceeded to walk into the area between 53 and 55 Pine Street, while Dennis waited on the porch. As Haskins walked towards the alley, he yelled out to defendant, who was in the back of the alley, and “motioned as if making hand signals of 10.” Defendant went behind 55 Pine Street for a few moments and then came back and met Haskins in the center of the alley. Defendant handed Haskins “an item,” which, Sergeant Rivera observed, Haskins took in his right hand. Haskins then walked from the alley back to 49 Pine Street where he handed the item to Dennis. Dennis then handed Haskins what appeared to be United States currency, and Dennis left the area. Haskins went back to the alley and gave defendant the money. Defendant remained in the alley while Haskins returned to the porch at 49 Pine Street.
As Dennis left the area, Sergeant Rivera, based on eight years of experience and observing over 1,000 hand-to-hand street-level drug interactions, concluded that he had observed a drug transaction. He relayed a description of Dennis and Dennis’ current route of travel over the police radio.
After Dennis left the area, another individual, Robert Ellis, emerged from a black Cadillac parked near the front of 49 Pine Street and began talking to Haskins who was sitting on the porch. Haskins returned to the alley and called defendant. They had a brief conversation resulting in Haskins bringing Ellis to defendant, and defendant and Ellis proceeding to the rear of 55 Pine Street. A moment later, Ellis returned “looking a[t] something in his hand”; he entered his vehicle and left the area. Sergeant Rivera then advised his backup team to detain the black Cadillac.
Once the backup team had detained both Dennis, Ellis and the black Cadillac, Sergeant Rivera advised the team to detain Haskins, who was still at 49 Pine Street, and defendant who was in front of 55 Pine Street. Haskins and defendant were then transported to police headquarters.
Detective Clavijo took part in Dennis’s arrest based upon the information received from Sergeant Rivera. Detective Clavijo stated the information he and his partner, Detective Santiago, received from Sergeant Rivera was that “the black male wearing the blue knit cap, the blue vest and blue jean pants was heading south, actually running south, on Pine Street towards Autumn Street.” Once Detective Clavijo saw the individual who met the description, he followed the individual down Pine Street and stopped him at 537 McKinley Street.
Upon arriving at the McKinley Street property, Detective Santiago, spoke to Dennis by talking to him from the window of their vehicle. Both detectives exited the vehicle in plain clothes, and Detective Clavijo, who was wearing his badge around his neck, stated in a loud voice, “[s]top, police.” Dennis stopped and then stated he had crack cocaine in his right front pants pocket. Detective Clavijo retrieved the suspected crack cocaine, secured it and placed Dennis under arrest. Detective Clavijo and Detective Arroyo, who with Detective Larson, had stopped the Ellis vehicle, then went to Pine Street and based on Rivera’s description, placed Haskins and defendant under arrest. No additional narcotics were recovered.
At headquarters, Dennis, Ellis, Haskins and defendant were searched. No drugs were found on Haskins and defendant, only money. Most notably, defendant was carrying $568.00, but no narcotics were found on him. No narcotics were found in the rear of 55 Pine Street either. At headquarters, members of the backup team gave Sergeant Rivera the substances that the buyers allegedly purchased from Haskins and defendant. Sergeant Rivera visually identified the substance as crack cocaine, which, upon subsequent testing, was confirmed as cocaine.
At trial, Ellis stated that he went to Pine Street, got out of his car, saw someone that he knew and asked him where he could buy “$20 worth of base.” He identified Haskins as the “someone” who directed him to the seller and identified defendant as the seller. Ellis described that after he went to the back of the premises, he met defendant, gave him money, received the crack cocaine and then drove away only to be pulled over by the police. Ellis had some cocaine on his front seat and a dollar bill wrapped around cocaine in his sock along with a pipe as well as aluminum foil. The cocaine in the aluminum foil came from the Pine Street transaction. Ellis admitted at trial that he pled guilty to the charge of possession of a controlled dangerous substance in exchange for testifying for the State at this trial.
On appeal, defendant raises the following issues:
POINT I: TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR A JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL IN VIOLATION OF R. 3:18-1.
POINT II: THE TRIAL COURT DENIED DEFENDANT A FAIR TRIAL BY FAILING TO GIVE AN ADEQUATE INSTRUCTION ON ACCOMPLICE LIABILITY, FORECLOSING ANY POSSIBILITY THAT DEFENDANT COULD BE FOUND NOT GUILTY.
POINT III: THE TRIAL COURT VIOLATED DEFENDANT’S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS BY FAILING TO APPROPRIATELY WEIGH THE AGGRAVATING AND MITIGATING FACTORS AND HENCE SENTENCED DEFENDANT TO AN UNREASONABLE TERM OF YEARS.
Defendant urges that he was entitled to a judgment of acquittal at the end of the State’s case. In denying the motion to dismiss, the judge commented:
The broad test for the [de]termination of an application of this kind by the Defense is whether the evidence at this point is sufficient to warrant a conviction of the charge involved pursuant to rule — court rule 3:18-1.
More specifically, the question the trial Judge must determine is whether viewing the State’s evidence in its entirety, be that evidence direct or circumstantial, and giving the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony, as well as all of the favorable inferences which reasonably could be drawn therefrom, a reasonable Jury could find guilt on the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Of course that’s State vs. Reyes, [50 N.J. 454, 458-59 (1967)]. And there is –this is a circumstantial case. The Jury could, if they accept the credibility of the testimony, find that the officer observed transactions, exchange of currency for an item too small to be identified. That the person who allegedly received the small item in exchange for paper currency was stopped thereafter and was found to have crack cocaine on his possession. In fact one of the purchasers testified to having purchased the cocaine consistent with the way the officer says the transaction went, verifying that.
So based on the circumstantial evidence in the case, I’m satisfied that pursuant to Reyes, the State is entitled to have the case go forward. The motions for Judgment of Acquittal are denied. A Jury could reasonably find from all the evidence in the case that the Defendants were involved in the distribution of crack cocaine and certainly could find there was — there is a basis for accomplice liability by reason — or purposely promoting or facilitating the distribution of cocaine by aiding or assisting in that process by directing buyers to the — supplied.
A court shall enter an order for a judgment of acquittal only “if the evidence is insufficient to warrant a conviction.” R. 3:18-1. The standard to be applied to determining a motion for a judgment of acquittal at the conclusion of the State’s case is set forth in State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454 (1967):
[T]he question the trial judge must determine is whether, viewing the State’s evidence in its entirety, be that evidence direct or circumstantial, and giving the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony as well as all of the favorable inferences which reasonably could be drawn therefrom, a reasonable jury could find guilt of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
[Reyes, supra, 50 N.J. at 458-59.]
Under Rule 3:18-1, the trial court “is not concerned with the worth, nature or extent (beyond a scintilla) of the evidence, but only with its existence, viewed most favorably to the State.” State v. Papasavvas, 170 N.J. 462, 521 (2002) (quoting State v. Kluber, 130 N.J. Super. 336, 342 (App. Div. 1974), certif. denied, 67 N.J. 72 (1975)). See also State v. Spivey, 179 N.J. 229, 236 (2004). “An appellate court will apply the same standard as the trial court to decide if a judgment of acquittal was warranted.” State v. Harris, 384 N.J. Super. 29, 52 (App. Div.) (stating “we must view the State’s evidence, in its entirety and giv[e] the State the benefit of all its favorable testimony and all of the favorable inferences to be drawn from that testimony to determine whether a jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt under the statute”) (internal quotations omitted), certif. denied, 188 N.J. 357 (2006); State v. Brooks, 366 N.J. Super. 447, 453 (App. Div. 2004) (“The trial judge must consider only the existence of such evidence, not its ‘worth, nature, or extent.'”) (quoting Kluber, supra, 130 N.J. Super. at 342). “If the evidence satisfies that standard, the motion must be denied.” State v. Felsen, 383 N.J. Super. 154, 159 (App. Div. 2006).
We are satisfied that reviewing the evidence in its totality, the State met its burden, and the judge correctly denied the motion. Defendant, in his brief, parses the testimony and events focusing on, for example, the exchange of money as not forming the basis of criminal conduct sufficient to survive a motion. Here, the officers engaged in a methodical piecing together of facts including the exchange of currency for “objects” coupled with later arrest and apprehension of drugs from a purchaser who ultimately identified defendant as the seller. While each element might not survive, the totality of the described events clearly meets the State’s burden. We find no merit in this claim.
We reach the same result regarding the accomplice charge. We first note that there was no objection to the charge, and we must determine whether, if erroneous, the alleged defective charge was “clearly capable of producing an unjust result.” R. 2:10-2; State v. Adams, 194 N.J. 186, 206-07 (2008).
Here, the judge followed the Model Jury Charge, a practice sanctioned by our Supreme Court. State v. R.B., 183 N.J. 308, 325 (2008) (noting that “insofar as consistent with and modified to meet the facts adduced at trial, model jury charges should be followed and read in their entirety to the jury”). The judge provided the requisite definitions in the context of the entire charge, and we perceive no basis for our intervention.
Finally, we conclude that defendant’s sentence was appropriate. The judge’s conclusion that defendant did not establish mitigating factors is well-supported by the record.
1 Two additional counts of second-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance within 500 feet of a public park, building or housing facility, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a, were dismissed.
2 The first names of Detectives Larson, LeConte and Cassiano are not set forth in the record.
April 8, 2009