|TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that 15 alleged drug dealers, including four current or former leaders of the Latin Kings street gang in Newark, were indicted by a state grand jury on charges including first-degree racketeering in “Operation Peddling Misery,” an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and Division of Criminal Justice that targeted a violent narcotics distribution enterprise that was dealing large quantities of heroin and crack cocaine in Newark. Four additional defendants are charged with second-degree conspiracy to distribute narcotics and various other offenses, bringing the total number of defendants indicted to 19.
The indictment was returned on July 13, and numerous defendants have been arrested since that date on warrants stemming from the indictment. The following four men – all of whom allegedly held top leadership positions in the Newark Chapter of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (ALKQN) street gang – also were charged with first-degree promoting organized street crime:
- Japhet Lopez, aka “King Japhet,” 33, of Newark, who allegedly controlled the racketeering enterprise,
- Kiele Lopez, aka “King Forty,” 22, of Newark, who allegedly served as Japhet Lopez’s right-hand man and was the ALKQN member in Newark who acted as “warlord” or head of security,
- Christopher Velez, aka “Boxing Chris,” 30, of Newark, and
- Luis Maldanado, aka “King Santo,” 38, of Newark.
The charge of promoting organized street crime carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in state prison. The racketeering charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. A full list of the 15 defendants charged with first-degree racketeering is included below. Japhet Lopez, Kiele Lopez, and three of the other racketeering defendants – Justin Rodriguez, 24, Carlos Rodriguez, 35, and Christian Padilla, 21, all of Newark – also are charged with first-degree maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility.
The charges stem from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime North Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, assisted by the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Newark Police and New Jersey State Parole Board. The investigation revealed that the criminal syndicate run by the Latin Kings allegedly used violence to defend its turf and routinely beat its own members as “discipline” if they disobeyed gang rules or orders from gang leaders.
“These leaders, members and associates of the Latin Kings Newark Chapter are charged with dealing large quantities of heroin and crack cocaine and fueling the tragic epidemic of addiction that is claiming so many lives in New Jersey,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Moreover, the turf battle between these gang members and rival Trinitarios in northern Newark allegedly was a major source of gun violence. We’ve taken decisive action to suppress that violence and stem the flow of deadly drugs from this ring.”
“Through this far-reaching investigation, we built a first-degree racketeering case that targets the entire hierarchy of this gang-run drug syndicate, from alleged top leaders of the Latin Kings in Newark down to street-level dealers,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend the State Police for their detective work, which will enable us to lock up these offenders for a long time.”
“This criminal organization’s penchant for narcotics dealing and violence presented a clear threat to the citizens of the Newark area,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Working together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to aggressively investigate and dismantle these types of criminal organizations.”
Japhet Lopez, Kiele Lopez, Justin Rodriguez, Israel Carreras, 26, of Newark, and Julio Benabe, 29, of Newark, are charged with first-degree armed robbery and second-degree possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose for allegedly attempting to rob a member of a rival gang, the Triniterios, or 3NI, while armed with a handgun on May 5, 2016. Those defendants also are charged, along with Carlos Rodriguez, with second-degree conspiracy, third-degree aggravated assault and third-degree criminal restraint in connection with that incident. They allegedly dragged the victim into the basement of an apartment building at 223 Mount Prospect Avenue in northern Newark, which served as a stronghold for the Latin Kings, where they restrained and beat him.
During the incident, Luis Alequin, a Latin Kings gang member, was shot and killed in a stairwell of the building by individuals suspected to be associates of the robbery victim who came looking for him. The robbery victim broke free when the shots rang out and escaped through a back door of the building.
In addition, Japhet Lopez and Kiele Lopez are charged with first-degree witness tampering because, after Japhet Lopez was arrested in this case in March 2017, they allegedly threatened violence against a man they suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, as well as his family.
During the investigation, alleged sales of hundreds of wax folds of heroin by members of the drug ring, as well as sales of crack cocaine, were captured via surveillance at 223 Mount Prospect Avenue. In addition, sales of hundreds of vials of crack cocaine by ring members, as well as sales of heroin, were captured via surveillance at 38 May Street, an apartment building where Kiele Lopez lived with his girlfriend, Yaritza Perez, 22, who also is a defendant charged with second-degree conspiracy. Four handguns, including two defaced guns, more than 300 wax folds of heroin, over 100 vials of crack cocaine, and copies of the Latin Kings manifesto and other gang literature and paraphernalia were seized when search warrants were executed at those two locations and other residences of gang members.
Deputy Attorney General Jamie Picard presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Annmarie Taggart and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis. Attorney General Porrino commended those prosecutors, along with all of the members of the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime North Unit who conducted the investigation, particularly the lead detectives: Detective Scott Sanders and Detective Paul Chiaramonte. Attorney General Porrino also thanked the members of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Narcotics, Newark Police Department 2nd Precinct, and New Jersey State Parole Board Gang Investigation Unit for their valuable assistance in the investigation.
Promoting organized street crime carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. The other first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000, with an enhanced fine of up to $750,000 on the narcotics production facility charge. First-degree racketeering carries a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000, but for drug charges, the fine is up to $75,000. Carlos Rodriguez is charged with second-degree possession of a weapon as a convicted felon, which carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of five years. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Essex County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment on the charges.
The following 15 defendants are charged in the indictment with first-degree racketeering and various other crimes (*indicates the defendant is in custody):
- *Japhet Lopez, aka “King Japhet,” 33, of Newark.
- *Kiele Lopez, aka “King Forty,” 22, of Newark.
- *Christopher Velez, aka “Boxing Chris,” 30, of Newark.
- *Luis Maldonado, aka “King Santo,” 38, of Newark.
- Justin Rodriguez, aka “King Jay Airy,” 24, of Newark.
- *Carlos Rodriguez, aka “King Future,” 35, of Newark.
- *Christian Padilla, 21, of Newark.
- *Israel Carreras, aka “King Solle,” 26, of Newark.
- *Julio Benabe, aka “King Coco,” 29, of East Orange.
- *John J. Ruiz, 20, of Newark.
- Angelo Rodriguez, aka “Tito,” 51, of Newark.
- Jose D. Torres, aka “Wop,” 31, of Newark.
- Edwin Roman III, aka “Chicken Little,” 19, of Newark.
- Luis Diaz, aka “King Stevie,” 26, of Newark.
- *Edgardo Mendez, aka “King Ito,” 27, of Belleville.
The following four defendants are charged in the indictment with second-degree conspiracy to distribute narcotics and various other crimes:
- Yaritza Perez, 22, of Newark.
- Keisha Colon, 22, of Newark.
- Vidalina Torres, 73, of Newark.
- Jadnier Rios, aka “Jadnier Torres,” 33, of Newark.
For Japhet Lopez: Marco Laracca, Esq., Bio & Laracca, P.C., Orange, N.J.
For Kiele Lopez: Howard P. Lesnik, Esq., Triarsi, Betancourt, Wukovits & Dugan, LLC., Cranford, N.J.
For Carlos Rodriguez: John McGovern, Esq., Scranton, Pa.
For Christian Padilla: James Lisa, Esq., Jersey City, N.J.
For Christopher Velez, Luis Maldonado, Justin Rodriguez, Israel Carreras and Julio Benabe: Undetermined.
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