|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced charges against the alleged ringleader and 19 additional defendants in the takedown of a Paterson-based narcotics network that allegedly was responsible for illegally distributing more than one thousand pills per week of the highly addictive opiate painkiller oxycodone. Numerous arrests were made today.
A multi-agency team was deployed beginning early this morning to execute arrest warrants for 17 alleged members of the ring. By noon, 12 individuals had been arrested and were being processed at the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, while authorities continued to seek the five remaining targets as fugitives. The arrests are the result of an ongoing cooperative investigation called “Operation White Silk,” which began in March and is being conducted by the Division of Criminal Justice, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), New Jersey Division. Those agencies have been assisted by the New Jersey State Police and the Paterson Police Department.
The alleged ringleader, Aurelio Gutierrez, 59, of Paterson, was arrested on July 11 with Daniel Blanco, 47, of the Bronx, N.Y. Blanco allegedly is a dealer who bought pills from Gutierrez, but also supplied Gutierrez with pills at times. They were arrested on Broadway in Paterson as Gutierrez allegedly sold 110 oxycodone pills to Blanco. Investigators executed search warrants that day and seized more than 500 oxycodone pills from Gutierrez’s vehicle and home on East 17th Street. Gutierrez is charged with leading a narcotics trafficking network, a first-degree crime that carries a sentence of life in prison, with 25 years of parole ineligibility. He also is charged with distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), possession of CDS with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to distribute CDS, all in the second degree. The other 19 defendants are charged with second-degree conspiracy to distribute CDS.
“Oxycodone pain pills are at the heart of an epidemic of opiate addiction that is killing too many young people in New Jersey, either directly through pill overdoses or by moving them on to the cheaper alternative of heroin, which is being sold on the streets at lethal purity levels,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We charge that Gutierrez and his associates were cashing in on this epidemic by selling more than one thousand oxycodone pills per week. Working with law enforcement across the state, we’ve ramped up our efforts to take down criminal enterprises like this that peddle addiction and death.”
“Many factors drive the diversion of opiate painkillers, including overprescribing of the drugs, the prevalence of prescription fraud, and the high price these pills command on the street,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This pill ring we dismantled in Operation White Silk reaped its supply of oxycodone pills from a variety of sources. As resourceful as these dealers may be in obtaining pills, we vow to be more resourceful in catching them and putting them behind bars.”
“It is essential that law enforcement work together to eliminate narcotic distribution networks of this nature and send those involved in these schemes to prison. I want to commend the Attorney General’s Office, DEA, the Officers from the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and all members of law enforcement who participated in ‘Operation White Silk.’ The only way of truly reducing the amount of oxycodone on our streets is through comprehensive long-term investigations of this nature,” said Passaic County Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik.
Carl J. Kotowski, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s New Jersey Division stated, “Operation White Silk is another example of how cooperation between law enforcement agencies at all levels can achieve great results. Prescription drug abuse is a major issue facing New Jersey, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to reduce the diversion of these drugs into our communities.”
Gutierrez allegedly distributed more than 1,000 oxycodone pills per week in northern New Jersey. It is alleged that demand was so high that he typically would dispose of all of the pills he acquired within 24 hours. Oxycodone is the generic form of the narcotic in OxyContin and is the narcotic contained in other painkillers such as Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen). The ring allegedly distributed high-dose “blues,” blue pills containing 30 milligrams of oxycodone, and “bananas,” oblong yellow Percocet pills containing 10 milligrams of oxycodone, among other pills. A “blue” typically sells for $10 to $30 on the street, while a “banana” sells for $5 to $8.
Gutierrez allegedly used numerous people, known as “runners,” to obtain oxycodone pills and other prescription narcotics such as the anti-anxiety medication Xanax for further illegal distribution. The runners used a variety of means to obtain the prescription pills, including buying pills from low-income residents of Paterson who had legitimate prescriptions, obtaining fraudulent prescriptions which they filled at pharmacies, and using their own prescriptions for personal medical conditions.
Gutierrez allegedly controlled and directed the activities of the runners. He allegedly paid the runners enough for them to make a profit, reselling the pills at a substantial markup to other dealers. Dealers or “pill brokers” from all over northern New Jersey allegedly came to Gutierrez in order to purchase prescription pills, primarily oxycodone.
The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau by Detective Kevin Weinkauff, who is lead detective, Deputy Attorney General Ray Mateo, and North Squad Detectives Louis Renshaw, Travis Johnson, Toni Petreski, Miguel Rodriguez and Luis Cruz, under the supervision of Lt. Christopher Donohue, Sgt. Ho Chul Shin, Deputy Chief of Detectives Chuck Foley, Deputy Attorney General Lauren Scarpa-Yfantis, who is Deputy Bureau Chief, and Deputy Attorney General Christopher Romanyshyn, who is Bureau Chief. The investigation was conducted for the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office by Detective Stephan Lantigua, Detective Eric Fajardo, and Detective Johnnie Ramos, under the supervision of the Director of the Bureau of Narcotics Mario Recinos and Detective Sgt. Marco Catania. Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked all of the members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New Jersey Division who conducted the investigation. He also thanked the New Jersey State Police Special Investigations Section and the Paterson Police Department for their valuable assistance in the investigation.
The following is a full list of the 20 defendants charged to date (* indicates person remains a fugitive):
- Aurelio Gutierrez, 59, of Paterson.
These seven individuals allegedly were dealers or “pill brokers” who bought oxycodone pills and other prescription narcotics from Gutierrez for distribution in northern New Jersey. In some instances, they supplied pills to Gutierrez.
- Daniel Blanco, 47, of the Bronx, N.Y., arrested with Gutierrez,
- William Hernandez, 39, of Paterson,
- Thomas Lamera, 58, of Warren,
- *David Licata, Jr., 34, of Nutley,
- Marcos Moya, 33, of Paterson,
- Jason Wagoner, 35, of Lafayette, and
- Keith Bye, 50, of Hackensack.
These 12 individuals allegedly were “runners” who obtained oxycodone pills and other prescription narcotics and sold them to Gutierrez.
- Shakera Brown, 53, of Paterson,
- Dwight Nero, 57, of Paterson,
- *Robert Ayala, 54, of Paterson,
- Omar Gonzalez, 42, of Paterson,
- Daniel Maldonado, 55, of Paterson,
- John Mosley, 48, of Hackensack,
- Larry Garrett, 49, of Lodi,
- *David Reames, 52, of Paterson,
- Antoine Watkins, 31, of Paterson,
- *Nilda Ortiz, 61, of Paterson,
- Maria Centeno, 48, of Paterson, and
- *Carmen Shannon, 45, of Paterson.
The arrested individuals were lodged in the Passaic County Jail. Bail for Gutierrez was set at $275,000 cash, with requirements of a bail source hearing and surrender of passport if bail is posted. Cash bails were set for the other defendants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000.
The charge of leader of a narcotics trafficking network carries a sentence of life in prison, with 25 years of parole ineligibility, and a criminal fine of up to $750,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
The complaints that were filed are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The charges will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.