TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that two defendants were sentenced to prison today as members of a major narcotics network with ties to the Ñetas street gang that was dealing large quantities of heroin in the area of 4th and Royden Streets in Camden. The criminal network was dismantled in May 2012 through the investigation “Operation Billboard.”
Jonathan Roman, 24, of Camden, a street-level manager for the drug ring, was sentenced today to seven years in state prison, including three years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Michael J. Kassel in Camden. Roman pleaded guilty on Dec. 2 to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and distribution of narcotics in a school zone. In addition, Judge Kassel today sentenced Victoria Ventura, 25, of Camden, a street-level dealer for the ring, to five years in state prison, including 2 ½ years of parole ineligibility. She pleaded guilty to racketeering on Dec. 9.
A total of nine defendants have been sentenced to prison since November in “Operation Billboard,” an investigation led by the Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Camden Police, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police and federal agents from ICE Homeland Security Investigations. The investigation resulted in the indictment on Jan. 9, 2013 of 36 defendants, including the senior leader of the ring, Noel Gonzalez, 44, of Camden, a reputed member of the Ñetas, and his partner, Michael Rivera, 30, of Camden. Gonzalez died of natural causes in June 2013, with the charges against him pending. Rivera faces charges that include the first-degree crime of leader of a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a sentence of life in prison, including 25 years without parole.
Deputy Attorney General Andrew B. Johns prosecuted the defendants for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. He handled the sentencing of Ventura today, while Deputy Attorney General Darryl Richardson handled the sentencing of Roman.
“Through Operation Billboard, we dismantled a major narcotics ring responsible for open-air drug dealing in a large section of Camden near the Central Waterfront,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “One by one, we are sending the members of this ring to prison, where they can no longer threaten the people of this neighborhood with their heroin and violence.”
“In addition to the nine defendants we already sent to state prison, four more have pleaded guilty and face prison terms at sentencing,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will not rest until all of the remaining members of this drug network are in prison. The record shows that we have had a strong impact on public safety and quality of life in Camden through far-reaching investigations such as Operation Billboard.”
These additional seven defendants have been sentenced since November in Operation Billboard:
- William Alvarez, 37, of Camden. Sentenced on Nov. 22 to eight years in prison, including four years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to racketeering.
- Miguel Bello, 23, of Pennsauken. Sentenced on Dec. 6 to five years in prison, including 2 ½ years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to racketeering.
- Wilkins Castro, 34, of Camden. Sentenced on Jan. 10 to seven years in prison, including three years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to racketeering.
- Cindy Scanes, 28, of Camden. Sentenced on Jan. 17 to seven years in prison, including three years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to racketeering.
- JessMarie Ramirez, 22, of Camden. Sentenced on Jan. 17 to seven years in prison, including three years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and distribution of narcotics in a school zone.
- Calvin Lewis, 24, of Blackwood. Sentenced on Jan. 17 to five years in prison, including 2 ½ years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to racketeering.
- Jonathan Vasquez, 20, of Camden. Sentenced on Jan. 17 to five years in prison, after pleading guilty to racketeering.
Four more defendants, all Camden residents, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. William Rivera, 32, Victor Serrano, 21, and Dewayne Shines, 22, each pleaded guilty to racketeering and face five-year prison sentences. Rivera’s sentence will include 2 ½ years of parole ineligibility. Hassan Torres, 26, faces a sentence of five years in prison, including three years of parole ineligibility, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and distribution of narcotics in a school zone. Rivera and Serrano are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 31, and Shines and Torres, on Feb. 14.
The investigation 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, 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 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 to Gonzalez and Rivera. At the time of the initial arrests, investigators executed search warrants at Gonzalez’s residence and four other residences. During the arrests and searches, authorities seized approximately three-quarters of a kilo of heroin; approximately $52,000 in cash; about $20,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency, and a .40-caliber handgun. Eight vehicles were also seized.
Operation Billboard was conducted by the Division of Criminal Justice, the Camden Police Department, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, the New Jersey State Police, and ICE Homeland Security Investigations. Assistance was provided by the Audubon Police Department and the Haddon Township Police Department. Acting Attorney General Hoffman credited Detective Peppi Pichette, Detective Brian Woolston, Detective James Blong III, Detective Jeffrey Lorman, Detective Richard Dasilva Jr., Detective Naike Kudlik, Sgt. Andrea Salvatini, and Lt. Richard Carlin of the Division of Criminal Justice, under the supervision of former Deputy Chief of Detectives Chuck Foley. He also credited Deputy Attorney General Andrew B. Johns and Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, under the direction of Deputy Attorney General Christopher Romanyshyn.