|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a Trenton man pleaded guilty today to a gun charge as a result of an undercover investigation by the State Police into illegal weapons trafficking in the capital city. He was prosecuted under the Targeted Anti-Gun (“TAG”) initiative, under which Acting Attorney General Hoffman has mandated that certain offenders charged with gun offenses in Mercer County face tough mandatory minimum sentences without possibility of parole.
Edward Thorpe, 22, of Trenton, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a rifle before Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Brown in Mercer County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to five years in state prison, including three years without possibility of parole. Judge Brown scheduled sentencing for Thorpe for Sept. 9.
Deputy Attorney General Cassandra Serentino took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.
“The cheap plea deals are absolutely over for gang members, drug dealers and repeat offenders who are caught carrying guns in Trenton,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Under TAG, they must serve substantial prison sentences without possibility of parole. We’re making the people of Trenton safer by keeping these armed criminals off the street.”
“By focusing on aggressively investigating and prosecuting gun crimes, we are using New Jersey’s tough gun laws to make our communities safer,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to work closely with the State Police on these important cases.”
“Those who traffic in illegal guns share part of the guilt for every person wounded or murdered by those guns,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “We will always seek to take guns off the streets by first stopping them at the source.”
Thorpe was charged along with Dominic Cole, 23, of Trenton, in a May 23, 2014 state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice. The charges against Cole are pending. It is alleged that between Feb. 11 and April 22, 2013, Cole conspired with Thorpe to sell seven guns at various locations in Trenton to an undercover operative working with the New Jersey State Police Weapons Trafficking Central Unit. Together, Cole and Thorpe allegedly sold a revolver and a semi-automatic rifle to the undercover operative on separate occasions in February 2013. On four subsequent occasions, Cole allegedly sold a total of five additional guns: three revolvers, a rifle with an illegal large-capacity magazine, and a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun. The indictment is merely an accusation and Cole is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Deputy Attorney Serentino presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. Detective Jeffrey Gauthier was the lead detective for the State Police Weapons Trafficking Central Unit, under the supervision of Lt. Eric Barlow and Sgt. Edward Kitts.
On Aug. 15, 2013, Acting Attorney General Hoffman announced the implementation in Trenton and Mercer County of TIDE-TAG, a strategy led by the New Jersey State Police, Trenton Police and Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office that has deployed more state troopers and other law enforcement personnel under TIDE to suppress shootings in the most violent neighborhoods of Trenton, while focusing efforts on arresting and aggressively prosecuting criminals who carry guns in public.
TIDE-TAG proved highly successful in stemming the tide of violence in the capital city. Trenton had experienced 29 murders in the first 7 ½ months of 2013, before the initiative was launched in August. But in the roughly two months after TIDE-TAG was launched, shootings dropped by half, and only eight additional homicides occurred during the remainder of 2013, including a period between late August and mid-November when no gun homicides occurred. In the six months after TIDE-TAG was launched in Trenton, the number of people shot decreased by 38 percent and the number of gun homicides decreased by one-third compared to the six months leading up to the program’s launch.
Under the TAG program, which applies countywide, the Attorney General has mandated that prosecutors will make no plea offer that is less than a minimum 3 ½ years without parole (3 years without parole for conduct that occurred prior to August 2013, when New Jersey’s gun penalties were enhanced) to a “tagged” offender charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. He has prohibited the common practice of pleading out gun cases for a reduced sentence of one year without parole.
The TAG designation applies to any defendant charged with unlawful possession of a gun in public, including in a car, if any one of the following criteria is met: the defendant has a prior felony conviction; there is a substantial likelihood the defendant is involved in organized criminal activity such as a gang or drug set; the defendant has a pending indictable charge; the defendant possessed the gun while committing a drug offense; the defendant brandished or discharged the gun in public; the gun is stolen or has a defaced serial number; or the defendant resisted arrest or attempted to flee from police.