Defendant Is Last to Be Sentenced as a Result of “Operation Zombie,” a Multistate Investigation that Led to the Seizure of 36 Firearms
TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced that the final defendant of a Philadelphia-based gun trafficking ring that illegally trafficked numerous guns and methamphetamine into Camden, N.J. was sentenced to state prison. The defendant and three others were initially charged in January 2020 in “Operation Zombie,” a joint investigation that led to the recovery of 36 guns and over 20 ounces of methamphetamine – the equivalent of up to 14,000 individual doses – among other contraband.
Victoria Zipf, 35, of Philadelphia, who acted as a straw purchaser and assisted in gun and drug sales, to an aggregate sentence of three years in state prison, including a one-year period of parole ineligibility by Superior Court Judge Edward J. McBride, Jr. in Camden County on June 7, 2022. She pleaded guilty to fourth-degree conspiracy and second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon on February 14, 2022.
“Operation Zombie” was a joint investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office – Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), New Jersey State Police, Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and the Philadelphia Police Department.
A total of four individuals were convicted in connection with Operation Zombie, including Zipf, who is the last to be sentenced.
The other three defendants are:
Matthew Zoba, 41, of Philadelphia, who managed the drug trafficking conspiracy, and Yuri Lyubinskiy, 41, of Philadelphia, who assisted in gun and drug sales, were sentenced on March 18, 2022 by Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Shusted, Jr. in Camden County. Zoba was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of 12 years in New Jersey state prison with an over five-year period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act after he pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy, first-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (methamphetamine), second-degree transporting weapons into the state for unlawful sale or transfer, and second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. Lyubinksiy was sentenced to three years of non-custodial probation after he pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy and third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. Both Zoba and Lyubinskiy pleaded guilty on February 14, 2022.
Robert Crosley III, 35, aka “Zombie,” of Philadelphia, who managed the gun trafficking conspiracy, was sentenced to 14 years in state prison with an over five-year period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act on September 10, 2021. Crosley pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy, first-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (methamphetamine), second-degree transporting weapons into the state for unlawful sale or transfer, and second-degree unlawful possession of an assault firearm on July 26, 2021.
“Let these sentences serve as a warning for criminals who operate in the illegal gun market in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “We must continue to work together, share intelligence, and utilize all necessary resources in order to disrupt gun trafficking and get weapons out of the hands of criminals.”
“All four defendants have now been convicted and sentenced for their roles in trafficking numerous guns and drugs from Philadelphia to Camden,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Continued collaboration with our law enforcement partners, both locally and across state lines, will help ensure that our communities are protected from these dangerous criminals and others like them.”
“These criminals profited from selling firearms and drugs with little regard for the safety of others,” said Director Pearl Minato of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are committed to continuing our interstate collaboration and intelligence sharing in order to investigate and prosecute gun and drug traffickers who put our communities at risk.”
“Illegal weapons traffickers’ profit from a trade that brings nothing but pain, suffering, and death, whether it’s from the bullets of the guns they sell or the drug trafficking that is almost always associated with those who seek out these illegal weapons,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “These sentences show the seriousness of these crimes and our commitment to work together to dismantle illegal trafficking rings on either side of the river, putting those responsible behind bars.”
In total, ring members sold 16 guns in the Camden area, including six military-style rifles, 10 handguns, and two illegal large-capacity magazines (one 75-round drum magazine and one 30-round magazine), and approximately 12 ounces of methamphetamine. When arrests and searches were conducted in January, 2020, another 20 guns were seized – including 10 handguns, six shotguns, three military-style rifles, and an Uzi – along with a large-capacity magazine, three partial sticks of dynamite, nearly 9 ounces of methamphetamine, 60 wax folds of heroin, over 80 marijuana plants, and a small amount of crack cocaine.
A semi-automatic rifle sold by the ring in December 2019 was identified as the gun used in the October 20, 2019 murder of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera, who was shot as her mother held her in her arms in their home in Philadelphia. Another gun sold by the ring, a 9mm handgun was linked to a September 2019 shooting in Philadelphia in which no one was hit.
The investigation revealed that Crosley obtained guns illegally by paying “straw purchasers” to buy guns in Pennsylvania at dealerships and gun shows. He texted customers to make arrangements to sell guns and/or methamphetamine. He texted photos showing guns he had for sale and setting prices ranging as high as $2,200 for an AR-15 style rifle.
Zoba also arranged deals for guns and drugs via texts or phone calls. Once Crosley or Zoba reached a deal, they made arrangements to deliver the guns or drugs to Camden. Sometimes Crosley and Zoba traveled together, or one of them would be driven by Lyubiniskiy or Zipf.
Deputy Attorneys General Jaclyn Poulton and Aaron Witherspoon represented the state at sentencings for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Cassandra Montalto, Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, and DCJ Deputy Director Annmarie Taggart. They were assisted by Detective Sgt. Garrett Cullen, who was the lead detective for the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime South Unit, under the supervision of Detective Sgt. First Class Gregg Ogden, Lt. Thomas DeVirgilis, Captain Michael Flory, and Major Michael Kane.
For Crosley: Robert M. Gamburg, Esq., Gamburg & Benedetto LLC, Philadelphia, Pa.
For Zoba: Jill R. Cohen, Esq., Westmont, N.J.
For Zipf: Lauren Wimmer, Esq., Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, Philadelphia, Pa.
For Lyubinskiy: Eileen T. Burns, Esq., Kenny, Burns & McGill, Philadelphia, Pa.