TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a Philadelphia man was sentenced to state prison today as a result of his trial conviction on charges resulting from his arrest by the New Jersey State Police as he and a co-defendant traveled to New York to commit a planned home invasion. Their SUV contained a handgun, ski masks, burglar tools, zip ties and duct tape. The arrests stemmed from a sting operation initiated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Luis Almonte, 37, of Philadelphia, Pa., was sentenced today to five years in state prison, including 42 months of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Benjamin S. Bucca Jr. in Middlesex County. Almonte and his co-defendant, Jorge Oviedo-Difo, 30, of Philadelphia, were found guilty at trial on June 21 by a Middlesex County jury of all charges against them in a state grand jury indictment, including unlawful possession of a handgun, unlawful possession of body armor penetrating bullets, and unlawful possession of a large-capacity gun magazine. Oviedo-Difo was also convicted of third-degree possession of heroin. Oviedo-Difo was tried in absentia and remains a fugitive. Judge Bucca issued a bench warrant today for his arrest.
Deputy Attorney General Matthew Lafargue tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. He was assisted by Deputy Attorney General Philip Mogavero. The charges are the result of an investigation by the DEA New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, which consists of agents and officers of the DEA New York Division, New York State Police and New York City Police Department. They enlisted the New Jersey State Police, who arrested the men on Jan. 20, 2016.
The DEA Task Force developed information that Almonte and Oviedo-Difo were part of a burglary ring. With the help of a confidential informant, who testified at trial, the DEA Task Force set up a sting operation in which the defendants were informed about a fictional “stash house” full of narcotics and cash in New York State, which drug dealers purportedly defended with an armed guard. The state presented evidence at trial that the defendants armed and equipped themselves to break into the house and steal the drugs and money.
The defendants were driving to the “stash house” when their SUV broke down at the Grover Cleveland Service Plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike. The New Jersey State Police, acting on information from the DEA Task Force, tracked the vehicle to the plaza, and when troopers approached the SUV, they saw black ski masks, a black hooded sweatshirt, plastic zip ties, duct tape and various burglar tools in plain view in the back seat. With Oviedo-Difo’s consent, troopers searched the SUV and found a 9mm handgun loaded with hollow point bullets hidden in a sock in a space beneath an aftermarket radio installed in the SUV. The men were arrested, and Oviedo-Difo was found to be in possession of a small quantity of heroin.
“This investigation by the DEA New York Drug Enforcement Task Force and New Jersey State Police demonstrated that Almonte is a dangerous, gun-toting criminal,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We have put him behind bars, where he cannot engage in violent criminal conduct of the type that he and his co-defendant had planned before they were arrested by state troopers.”
“The DEA Task Force and New Jersey State Police deserve great credit for being proactive in their efforts to protect the public by removing dangerous criminals like Almonte from our communities,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend our attorneys and the entire trial team for ensuring that he will serve a substantial prison sentence.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge James Hunt of the New York Division stated, “A great collaborative effort led to the arrest of two armed and dangerous men. This sentencing does not mark the end of this case. Convicted in absentia, Oviedo-Difo remains a fugitive and we ask the public to call their local police department to report any information that will assist in his apprehension.”
Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police said, “It was made clear during this investigation that Almonte and Oviedo-Difo would not hesitate to commit a violent invasion on a drug stash house they thought to be protected by an armed security guard. Their willingness to move forward with this crime is proof positive of the dangerous mentality of both of these individuals. The need to remove these criminals from the public was apparent and I commend our troopers and partners at the DEA for their efforts in bringing them to justice.”
Superintendent George P. Beach II of the New York State Police said, “Thanks to the hard work by the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and the New Jersey State Police, a dangerous criminal is behind bars. This sting operation shows the danger that drugs bring into our communities. These two men did not hesitate in their attempt to break into a possible drug house and forcibly take the illegal drugs and money. As part of the NY DETF, the New York State Police are committed to bringing the second subject to justice, as well as continuing to rid our streets of these illegal substances and preventing the crimes that come with them.”
NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said: “Today’s sentencing is the result of the professional working relationships members of the NYPD share with our state and federal law enforcement partners, particularly on the DEA Task Force. I want to especially thank the New Jersey State Police and the Attorney General's Office for their invaluable contributions to this case. When we collaborate to ensure public safety in this manner, the end result is always an appropriate and meaningful prison sentence.”
Attorney General Grewal commended the trial team, as well as the special agents, officers and troopers who handled the investigation for the DEA New York Drug Enforcement Task Force and the New Jersey State Police. Deputy Attorney General Michael Klein presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis.
Defense Attorney for Almonte:
Louis A. Mangione Jr., Esq., Spevack Law Firm, Iselin, N.J.
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