TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced the indictment of four alleged members of a drug ring that operated in a neighborhood near I-78 in Newark, where they sold drugs to motorists exiting the highway to make “drive-through” purchases of heroin. The men were arrested in December 2018, when investigators seized 13 guns, including two AR-15 assault rifles, and large amounts of heroin and cocaine.
The Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment on April 11 charging the following four alleged ring members:
The indictment is the result of “Operation Drive Thru,” an eight-month investigation led by the New Jersey State Police Crime Suppression North Unit, the Newark Police Department, and the Division of Criminal Justice that targeted a drug ring based on Ridgewood Avenue in Newark.
All four alleged ring members are charged with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree weapons offenses, and various drug offenses, including first-degree charges of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and maintaining a narcotics production facility. A woman arrested at a residence where drugs were seized, Keena Bryant, 28, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., faces first-degree charges of possession of heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute. Four additional men who allegedly bought heroin from the ring are charged with possession of heroin.
“The 13 illegal firearms and 100,000-plus doses of heroin seized in this case starkly illustrate the threat posed by this drug ring,” said Attorney General Grewal. “By dismantling this drive-through drug market off I-78, we stopped many thousands of potentially deadly doses of heroin from reaching users across the region and took dangerous guns off the street, including AR-15 assault rifles.”
“Each time we take down a major drug network that is armed with illegal guns, we make our streets safer for residents and law enforcement,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This indictment is a great example of what we can achieve through proactive, intelligence-driven investigations targeting those who bring drugs and guns into our communities. We will continue to collaborate with the State Police and law enforcement at all levels to conduct these operations.”
“Just as deadly as the cache of weapons seized as a result of this operation is the massive quantity of narcotics taken off of the streets, which included over 100,000 potentially lethal doses of heroin,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “Partnerships with cooperating law enforcement agencies in narcotic operations like ‘Drive Thru’ are without question making our communities safer, and I commend the outstanding work of all of agencies involved.”
“The seizure in Operation Drive Thru of two assault rifles, a tactical shotgun and 10 handguns, along with large quantities of heroin and cocaine, means that our streets are safer,” Newark Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose said. “It’s pathetic that New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, but thanks in large part to lax laws and unscrupulous gun dealers in other states, our residents and officers are threatened with this type of deadly firepower. We will continue to counter this threat by working collaboratively with our federal, state and county law enforcement partners in these investigations.”
I am grateful for our partnership with the New Jersey State Police in the successful conclusion of this operation.
On December 12, 2018 detectives from the New Jersey State Police – including the Crime Suppression North Unit, T.E.A.M.S Unit, Gangs and Organized Crime North Unit, Trafficking North Unit, Fugitive Unit, and K-9 Unit – as well as officers of the Newark Police Department and U.S. Marshals Service executed multiple search warrants in Newark. As a result of the operation, detectives arrested Coleman, Thomas, Elamin, Landrum and Bryant at various locations and seized the following:
Deputy Attorney General Mohammad A. Mahmood presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis and Deputy Bureau Chief Cynthia Vazquez. Attorney General Grewal commended the members of the State Police Crime Suppression North Unit and Newark Police who led the investigation. He also thanked the U.S. Marshals Service and other State Police units that assisted in the arrests and searches.
The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and an enhanced fine of up to $500,000 – or $750,000 for maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charge of certain persons not to have weapons (possession of a weapon as a convicted felon) carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of five years, and the charges of possession of a weapon while committing a narcotics offense carry a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed. The third-degree drug charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $35,000 for simple possession or $75,000 for possession with intent to distribute.
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 E. 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.
For Coleman: Thomas R. Ashley, Esq., Newark, N.J.
For Thomas: Vincent C. Scoca, Esq., Bloomfield, N.J.
For Elamin: Dana M. Scarillo, Bloomfield, N.J.
For Landrum: Scott V. Spina, Esq., Bloomfield, N.J.
For Byrant: Assistant Deputy Public Defender Rebecca A. Fisher, Essex County