Semi-automatic rifle that killed 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera in Philadelphia was recovered in multi-state investigation “Operation Zombie”
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TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced the indictment of four defendants who allegedly ran a major Philadelphia-based gun trafficking ring that illegally trafficked numerous guns and methamphetamine into Camden, N.J. They 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.
A semi-automatic rifle allegedly sold by the ring in December 2019 has been 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. While two men were charged in that case, the gun used was not recovered at the time. Another gun allegedly sold by the ring, a 9mm handgun, has been linked to a September 2019 shooting in Philadelphia in which no one was hit.
Attorney General Grewal and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the initial arrests and charges in the takedown of the criminal ring on Jan. 27, 2020 in Camden.
The Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau obtained a 57-count state grand jury indictment yesterday, March 30, charging the following alleged ring members:
- Robert Crosley III, 34, aka “Zombie,” of Philadelphia, who allegedly managed the gun trafficking conspiracy.
- Matthew Zoba, 40, of Philadelphia, who allegedly managed the drug trafficking conspiracy. Arrested on the morning of Jan. 23 in Philadelphia.
- Victoria Zipf, 34, of Philadelphia, Zoba’s girlfriend, who allegedly acted as a straw purchaser and assisted in gun and drug sales.
- Yuri Lyubinskiy, 40, of Philadelphia, who allegedly assisted in gun and drug sales.
The indictment charges Crosley and Zoba with first-degree promoting organized street crime, Crosley in connection with the gun trafficking and Zoba in connection with the drug trafficking. Crosley and Zoba are also charged with first-degree distribution of methamphetamine. All four defendants are charged with second-degree conspiracy in connection with the gun trafficking and second-degree transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale or transfer. All are also charged with second-degree conspiracy in connection with the drug trafficking. The defendants are charged with numerous additional weapons offenses listed below. A fifth defendant who was arrested in January 2020, Michael Snyder, 44, of Philadelphia, died the following month.
Between March 2019 and January 2020, the ring members allegedly 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. Another 20 guns were seized during arrests and searches – 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.
“Operation Zombie” was conducted 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.
“This indictment is an important next step in our prosecution of these alleged prolific interstate gun and drug traffickers,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Through our collaborative investigation Operation Zombie, we removed over 30 guns from our streets, including several linked to violence in the region, as well as large quantities of methamphetamine. We made our communities safer on both sides of the Delaware River. We are continuing our interstate collaboration and intelligence sharing to tackle the iron pipeline of illegal guns crossing into New Jersey.”
“This interstate collaboration is taking crime guns off of streets of both Philadelphia and Camden and making our communities safer,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Too many families have been broken by gun violence. Too many communities have been hurt by this epidemic. We must work together, share intelligence, and utilize all necessary resources to get these weapons off the streets and out of the hands of criminals.”
“We are aggressively investigating and prosecuting the criminal profiteers who capitalize on the ready market for illegal guns on the streets of New Jersey,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to work with the New Jersey State Police and all of our federal, state, county, and local partners to stop the illicit flow of lethal firepower into our communities.”
“It is not hyperbole when we say that those who work in weapons and narcotics trafficking are dealing in death and destruction. The senseless violence and addiction that go hand-in-hand with guns and drugs not only claim the lives of the innocent, but they also leave the victims’ families, friends, and communities devastated and broken,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The stakes could not be higher, and we could not be more resolute in our efforts to dismantle violent weapons and trafficking networks through cooperative investigations like ‘Operations Zombie,’ which led to today’s important indictments.”
“In our fight against violent crime, every illegal gun taken off the street is a small victory, and every gun trafficker locked up is a big one,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “People should be able to leave their homes without feeling like they’ve stepped into a war zone. But those who profit from selling guns and drugs have no regard for the incredible damage they’re doing. The FBI and our partners are committed to working together across jurisdictions to take down the criminals wreaking such havoc in our communities.”
“The prevalence of illegal guns and drugs in Philadelphia is one of the primary reasons why gun violence has become such a problem in recent years,” said Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Jennifer Arbittier Williams. “Our office is committed to using all of our available resources and working with partners in our District and elsewhere to address this scourge on our city and region.”
“This investigation once again shows us the connection between drugs and guns,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New Jersey Division Susan A. Gibson. “The number of weapons and amount of methamphetamine seized during this investigation more than likely led to lives being saved from overdose or gun violence. These four defendants profited on the misery of others, and the DEA and our partners will continue to collaborate to make our communities safer.”
ATF Newark Field Division Special Agent in Charge Charlie J. Patterson said: “The results of this investigation reveal criminals have no haven when law enforcement agencies collaborate. ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) continues to connect crime guns with crime scenes and our Firearms Tracing System continues to hold straw purchasers accountable. As such, ATF Newark will continue to be a vital partner with our fellow local, state, and federal agencies in the fight against violent crime in our communities.”
Crosley was arrested in Camden on Jan. 22, 2020 when he allegedly arrived to sell guns and drugs. He was in possession of an AR-15 rifle, a large-capacity magazine, three shotguns, including a sawed-off shotgun, two handguns, 4 ounces of methamphetamine, and illegal hollow-nose bullets.
The investigation revealed that Crosley allegedly obtained guns illegally by paying “straw purchasers” to buy guns in Pennsylvania at dealerships and gun shows. He allegedly texted customers to make arrangements to sell guns and/or methamphetamine. He allegedly 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 allegedly 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.
As a result of the multi-agency investigation, Zipf and two other individuals – Shawn Roche and Hadi Mufti (aka Hadi Moft) – have been arrested and charged in Pennsylvania for allegedly acting as straw purchasers of firearms for the weapons trafficking ring. They are being prosecuted on those charges by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
Deputy Attorney General Jaclyn Poulton 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 Cassandra Montalto, Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, and DCJ Deputy Director Annmarie Taggart.
Detective Sgt. Garrett Cullen is 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.
Attorney General Grewal commended the following agencies for their work on Operation Zombie:
- New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau
- New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime South Unit
- Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force
- U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
- FBI Philadelphia Field Office & South Jersey Resident Agency
- DEA New Jersey Division, Camden Resident Office
- ATF Newark Field Division, Camden Field Office
- Philadelphia Police Department
The defendants are charged with the following additional weapons offenses: second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted felon (Crosley, Zoba). second-degree possession of a firearm during commission of a drug crime (Crosley), second-degree possession of an assault firearm (Crosley, 4 counts), third-degree disposition of an assault firearm (Crosley, 3 counts), second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun (Crosley, 7 counts; Zoba, 3 counts; Zipf, 1 count; Lyubinskiy, 1 count); fourth-degree unlawful disposition of a handgun (Crosley, 6 counts; Zoba, 4 counts; Zipf, 1 count; Lyubinskiy, 1 count), third-degree unlawful possession of a rifle (Crosley, 2 counts; Lyubinskiy, 1 count); fourth-degree unlawful disposition of a rifle (Crosley, 2 counts; Lyubinskiy, 1 count); third-degree possession of a sawed-off rifle (Crosley), third-degree disposition of a sawed-off rifle (Crosley), third-degree unlawful possession of a shotgun (Crosley), third-degree possession of a sawed-off shotgun (Crosley), fourth-degree possession of an illegal large-capacity magazine (Crosley, 5 counts; Lyubinskiy, 1 count), fourth-degree disposition of an illegal large-capacity magazine (Crosley, 5 counts; Lyubinskiy, 1 count); fourth-degree possession of hollow-nose bullets (Crosley, 1 count; Zoba, 2 counts; Zipf, 1 count).
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000, while second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The sentence for promoting organized street crime must be served consecutively to the sentence for any underlying offense. First-degree distribution of methamphetamine carries an enhanced fine of up to $500,000. The second-degree charge of transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of five years. The second-degree charge of unlawful possession of a handgun carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed or 3 ½ years, whichever is greater. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000 ($35,000 for the drug charges), while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
For Crosley: Robert M. Gamburg, Esq., Gamburg & Benedetto LLC, Philadelphia, Pa.
For Zoba: Jill R. Cohen, Esq., Westmont, N.J.
For Zipf: Michele Finizio, Esq., Moorestown, N.J.
For Lyubinskiy: Eileen T. Burns, Esq., Kenny, Burns & McGill, Philadelphia, Pa.