State Division of Criminal Justice charges 28 in gun-running bust

Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa today announced that numerous arrests and gun seizures have been made as a result of the Passaic River Corridor Initiative, a new collaboration in which the New Jersey State Police partners with local and county law enforcement agencies in Essex, Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties, as well as federal authorities, to prevent violence, solve crimes and seize guns by sharing intelligence about crime patterns and about criminals who operate across jurisdictional lines along a broad corridor extending from Newark to Paterson. 

Meanwhile, the Division of Criminal Justice filed 18 indictments charging 28 people with weapons trafficking and related offenses.  The indictments represent the latest round of prosecutions in a strategy announced in May by Attorney General Chiesa in which the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice are aggressively targeting gun violence with investigations focused on seizing guns in violent areas, interdicting gun trafficking, and aggressively prosecuting those who sell and possess illegal guns. The State Police Intelligence Section – which formed new Weapons Trafficking Units and more than doubled the detectives handling these cases – is on a record pace this year, with 323 guns seized statewide, more than tripling the 101 guns seized in 2010 and nearly tripling the 110 seized in 2011.

Attorney General Chiesa made the announcements at the Newark Police Department Ballistics Lab with Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes, Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio, Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, Essex County Chief of Detectives Anthony Ambrose, Paterson Police Chief James Wittig, Belleville Police Chief Joseph P. Rotonda and other representatives of the more than 20 agencies involved in the Passaic River Corridor Initiative. Since the initiative began in May, 405 arrests have been made and 76 guns have been seized.

“The common theme in both the Passaic River Corridor Initiative and our statewide strategy to fight gun trafficking is that we’re partnering across all levels of law enforcement and sharing intelligence to proactively target career criminals, particularly the ones who are bringing guns and gun violence into our communities,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “Each gun we seize potentially is a life saved. Each serious repeat offender we take off the street is one less criminal who might pull the trigger.  This is about doing all that we can to enhance the safety and quality of life of the people in these communities.”

The Division of Criminal Justice filed 18 state grand jury indictments in late November charging 28 defendants from across New Jersey with the unlawful possession or sale of 35 guns, including several assault weapons.  The indictments stem in all but two instances from cases involving the New Jersey State Police. The indictments charge the defendants with offenses ranging from unlawful possession of handguns and assault weapons to unlawful transportation of weapons into the state, and also include charges of unlawful possession of defaced weapons, unlawful possession of weapons during commission of narcotics offenses, unlawful possession of body armor piercing bullets, and unlawful possession of weapons by convicted felons.  Most of the defendants are subject to the strict penalties applicable to Graves Act gun convictions, requiring mandatory periods of parole ineligibility of up to five years.  In April and May of 2012, the Division of Criminal Justice obtained 21 state grand jury indictments charging 29 defendants with unlawful sale or possession of 52 guns.

“We’ve charged 57 defendants this year in two major rounds of indictments targeting individuals who were bringing illegal guns into our neighborhoods, and, in many cases, selling them to anyone who would pay their price, including drug dealers and gang members,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “There can be no mistake about the ultimate purpose of these black market guns.  They are used to commit crimes and they are used to kill.” 

“True progress happens when you get a group of law enforcement leaders unified around a cause to engage in frank discussions and information sharing,” said State Police Colonel Rick Fuentes.  “In the Passaic River Corridor Initiative, the ‘cause’ is reducing overall crime and violence.  We’ve seen some great successes already, and look forward to lasting advances in policing through close inter-agency relationships.”

The Passaic River Corridor (PRC) Initiative involves the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Criminal Justice, the New Jersey State Parole Board, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the County Prosecutors’ Offices in Essex, Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties, and the following 18 Police Departments: Paterson, Elmwood Park, Garfield, Lodi, Wallington, Passaic, Clifton, Carlstadt, East Rutherford, Rutherford, Nutley, Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Belleville, Kearny, East Newark, Harrison, and Newark.

The goals of the PRC Initiative are twofold:

  1. To share intelligence and combine efforts to solve crimes and shootings, because some offenders and weapons are linked to crimes in multiple jurisdictions, but neighboring towns often do not know that their crimes are related; and
  2. To deploy uniformed troopers in a wider array of corridor cities and towns to make arrests, gather intelligence and suppress crime, because intelligence analysis has shown similar and related crime patterns in areas all along the corridor, and the affected municipalities in many instances need targeted enforcement with high visibility, in addition to intelligence sharing.

All guns seized through the PRC Initiative are submitted to a ballistics lab – usually the Newark Police Department Ballistics Lab – for testing and are entered into the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.  NIBIN testing uses a laser to analyze striations on bullets and shell casings.  These patterns, like fingerprints, are stored in the database and compared to bullets and casings from other cases so connections can be made. A recent example of such a connection involves an arrest on Oct. 1 by the Belleville Police Department. Belleville officers charged an 18-year-old man after he brandished a handgun in front of a man and a woman during a dispute. He was arrested minutes later and police seized a silver 9mm semiautomatic handgun in his possession. The gun was submitted to the lab and test-fired, and the resulting shell was a positive match with a shell casing recovered after a shooting on Garside Street in Newark. No one was struck in that shooting. The investigation is ongoing.

State Police working within the PRC Initiative and the broader statewide weapons interdiction initiative have seized 71 “community guns” in the Passaic River Corridor area this year. Because of the severe penalties associated with being arrested while carrying an illegal firearm, many drug dealers and gang members hide “community firearms” in locations that are easy to access by members of their set or gang.  A loaded community gun may be used by different people and sometimes is used in shootings in different towns. In addition, community guns can be found by children, resulting in tragic accidents.

The State Police and their partners used intelligence from individuals arrested or questioned in other types of investigations, including narcotics investigations, to locate community guns.  These are examples of community guns seized by the State Police in the Passaic River Corridor area:

  • a 12-gauge shotgun stashed behind a home in the 5th Avenue Housing Projects in Paterson;
  • a .38-caliber revolver found in a black sock underneath a light post on River Road in Clifton;
  • a .30-caliber M-1 carbine rifle hidden by a wooded path near the railroad tracks in Paterson;
  • an AK-47-style assault rifle with a large capacity magazine hidden near a busy corner of Broadway in Paterson;
  • a sawed-off 20-gauge shotgun in a Nike gym bag next to an abandoned building in Paterson;
  • a .22-caliber revolver hidden in the electrical housing of a utility pole in Irvington; and
  • a .25-caliber semi-auto handgun secreted in a discarded toilet tank at a corner in Paterson.

The indictments filed by the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau include:  

Operation Gravedigger – Trenton Gun Trafficking – Four indictments charge a total of 11 Trenton residents, including 10 men and one woman, in connection with alleged sales of 16 firearms to an undercover detective or operative as a result of a State Police investigation into gun trafficking in Trenton. The guns included three assault rifles, one of which had a 90-round drum magazine, as well as five other rifles, five handguns and three shotguns.

Georgia Gun Train – Leo T. Robinson, 41, of Newark, was arrested by the State Police on July 20, 2012 when he arrived at Newark Penn Station from Georgia on an Amtrak train allegedly carrying two black bags containing three semi-automatic pistols (one stolen and another with a defaced serial number), 23 illegal hollow-point bullets, and numerous other rounds.  He allegedly planned to sell the guns on the streets of Newark.  Robinson was indicted on numerous charges including unlawful transportation of firearms into the state, possession of hollow-point bullets, and possession of weapons as a convicted felon.  He has 10 prior felony convictions, including aggravated assault and weapons offenses.

Monmouth County Gun Traffickers – Jonathan Dorosz, 44, of Eatontown, and Lance Zuhowski, 30, of Howell, were arrested by the New Jersey State Police after they allegedly made an illegal sale of a 12-gauge shotgun to a confidential informant in Howell Township on May 16 and attempted to illegally sell a .38-caliber handgun on June 11, also in Monmouth County.

Camden Gun Sales by Convicted Killer – Darnell Verdell, 33, of Deptford, was arrested by the New Jersey State Police and the State Parole Board on July 6. He allegedly sold two handguns to a cooperating witness in Camden.  Among other things, he is charged with possession of a weapon as a convicted felon, because he was convicted of aggravated manslaughter in Camden County in 1995.

Arrests made in the Passaic River Corridor Initiative include the following cases:

Newark Assault Rifles – Newark residents Farrad Brown, 54, Gregory Carter, 22, and Joy Green, 22, were arrested by the State Police on Oct. 17 and charged with trafficking illegal guns, including assault rifles.  Detectives allegedly made multiple gun buys from the three defendants on South 8th Street, where Brown lives, including these guns: an Olympic Arms .223-caliber assault rifle, a Bushmaster XM15 assault rifle, a Ruger Mini 14 semi-automatic rifle, a .45-caliber Hi Point rifle, a .45-caliber Glock pistol, a .38-caliber Taurus revolver and a .25-caliber Sterling Arms handgun. The defendants are being held in the Essex County Jail with bail set at $1 million for Brown, $750,000 for Carter, and $500,000 for Green.

Belleville Burglary Case – At every meeting of the Passaic River Corridor Initiative, partners review data and crime analysis on a variety of subjects. Recent meetings looked at burglaries in residential areas of some of the partner towns, including Belleville. The Belleville Police Department had received information from analysts at the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center that predicted the most likely times and areas for residential burglaries, based on recent patterns.  Belleville officers, who were conducting patrols based on that information, performed an early morning stop and talk on Sept. 5 involving a man found in a residential driveway. They soon realized that the man, Travis McKoy, 26, of Maplewood, had no legitimate business in that driveway and was, in fact, carrying tools for committing burglaries.  Evidence was collected to enable them to charge McKoy in connection with six burglaries.

The 323 gun seizures made statewide this year by the State Police Intelligence Section include 37 guns seized in Camden by the Crime Suppression South Unit, 22 of which were seized in a high-crime sector where 18 homicides have occurred this year. Alleged weapons traffickers arrested in Camden by the State Police include:

Ray Velez – Velez, 37, of Camden, was arrested by the State Police Weapons Trafficking South Unit and Metro South Unit on Nov. 21 and charged with selling the following guns to an undercover detective or operative: an SKS assault rifle, a Mossberg 20-gauge shotgun, a Remington 20-gauge shotgun, a Remington 30-06 rifle, a Hi Point 9mm pistol, and a Ruger .45-caliber pistol.

Christopher McRae – McRae, 48, of Camden, was arrested on May 23 by the State Police Weapons Trafficking South Unit as a result of an undercover investigation and charged with selling an AK-47 assault rifle, a Glock 9mm pistol, a Hi Point .40-caliber pistol, and a Ruger .357-caliber revolver.

State Division of Criminal Justice charges 28 in gun-running bust