NJ authorities charge 36 in alleged heroin ring (PHOTOS)

January 11, 2013 12:35:19 PM PST
New Jersey law enforcement officials have charged 36 people in what prosecutors say was a major heroin distribution ring in Camden.


Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced Friday that two top leaders, six upper-level managers, and 28 other associates, street-level managers and dealers have been charged with racketeering. The network allegedly has ties to the Netas street gang.

Authorities say the group sold up to tens of thousands of dollars in heroin per week.

Chiesa says investigators broke up the ring by targeting an area of Camden they described as a 'hotbed of violence and daytime shootings.'

The investigation, called Operation Billboard, was lead by the Division of Criminal Justice with help from Camden law enforcement officials, the New Jersey State Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"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," said Chiesa. "These defendants will face lengthy prison sentences without parole if convicted of the charges against them."

The alleged senior leader of the narcotics network is Noel Gonzalez, 43, of Camden, a.k.a. "Noel Ripoll" a reputed member of the Ñetas. His alleged partner is Michael Rivera, 29, of Camden, a.k.a. "Bute." Both are charged with the first-degree crime of leading a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a sentence of life in prison, including 25 years without parole.

Investigators say 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, the alleged 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. A number of the defendants have been charged in the past with violent crimes or weapons offenses.

Investigators say six people of the people charged functioned as case workers. (*Indicates defendant faces first-degree charge of distribution of heroin and/or cocaine, or possession with intent to distribute.)

1. *William Alvarez, 36, of Camden, aka "June" and "Beatle"
2. Angel L. Martinez, 28, of Camden, aka "Gunz" (alleged Ñetas gang member)
3. Joseph Rivera, 28, of Cherry Hill, aka "Baby"
4. Samuel Serrano, 25, of Camden, aka "Sammy"
5. *Fred Alvarado, 47, of Camden, aka "Freddy" (alleged Latin Kings gang member)
6. *Jonathan Santiago, 32, of Camden, aka "Shorty" and "Chico"

Eight more people allegedly worked as set managers, directing the work of the trappers, who conducted hand-to-hand drug transactions for the drug sets:

1. *Wilkins Castro, 33, of Camden
2. *Cindy M. Scanes, 27, of Camden, aka "Fat Cindy"
3. *Jonathan Roman, 23, of Camden, aka "Papo"
4. *JessMarie Ramirez, 31, of Camden, aka "Jessie"
5. Michael Ortiz, 20, of Camden, aka "Mikey"
6. *Edguardo Ortiz, 21, of Camden, aka "Bebe"
7. *Christopher Vasquez, 21, of Camden
8. *George Rivera, 28, of Camden, aka "Ant," "Anthony," and "Angel"

Investigators say 15 of those charged worked as trappers:

1. *Giovanni Mercado, 21, of Camden
2. *Miguel Bello, 21, of Pennsauken
3. Victoria Ventura, 24, of Camden
4. *Timothy Peters, 19, of Camden, aka "White Boy"
5. *Luis Vazquez, 20, of Camden, aka "Lil Lou"
6. *William Rivera, 31, of Camden, aka "Butch"
7. *Hassan Torres, 25, of Camden, aka "Haz"
8. *Jose O. Diaz, 20, of Camden
9. *Julio Medina, 22, of Camden, aka "Juli"
10. Victor Serrano, 20, of Camden, aka "Bobo"
11. *Juan Santana, 53, of Camden, aka "Chino"
12. *Calvin J. Lewis, 23, of Blackwood, aka "CJ"
13. *Sebastian Cordero, 20, of Camden, aka "Sab"
14. *Jonathan Vasquez, 19, of Camden
15. Dewayne Shines, 21, of Camden, aka "D-Block"

The indictment charges the following five alleged associates of the drug enterprise, who allegedly held different roles:

1. *Vicente Porrata, 47, of Merchantville, aka "Lluvia," who allegedly distributed heroin
2. Virgilio Vargas, Jr., 25, of Camden, aka "June," who allegedly facilitated drug sales and acted as a courier of packaged heroin
3. *Gregorio Laboy, Jr., 22, of Camden, aka "Cono," who allegedly distributed heroin and served as a courier of packaged heroin
4. Luis Rodriguez, 53, of Camden, aka "Miro," who allegedly held firearms for Gonzalez
5. Luz Ripoll, 39, of Philadelphia, Gonzalez's sister, who allegedly had primary responsibility for packaging the heroin for street level distribution

One defendant charged in the original sweep, Angel Martinez, remains a fugitive and is being sought on a warrant.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.