PATERSON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced that about three and a half pounds of suspected fentanyl powder and over 1,000 suspected fentanyl pills were among the narcotics seized when a search warrant was executed in Paterson. The drugs seized have a street value of nearly $1 million, and the suspect is alleged to have been distributing drugs in bulk.
Pedro Rodriguez Avalo, 30, of Paterson, was arrested and charged on June 27, 2023, with one count of first-degree operating and maintaining a controlled-dangerous substance (CDS) production facility, two counts of second-degree possession with intent to distribute CDS, one count of third-degree possession with intent to distribute CDS within 1,000 feet of school property, and other narcotics-related offenses following the search of a residence on Lily Street in the area of North 7th Street in Paterson. Rodriguez was released over the State’s objection on Monday, July 3, subject to conditions, including that he avoids the commission of any offense while the case is pending, notify the court of changes to his contact information or address, and surrender any travel documents he may have. His next court date is to be determined.
Members of the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) Drug Trafficking North Unit, who conducted the investigation, as well as NJSP TEAMS North Unit, K-9 Unit, and NJSP Hazmat Unit, discovered an alleged drug mill operating inside the home. Investigators recovered approximately 1,637 grams — about a kilo and a half — of a substance suspected to be the powerful opioid fentanyl in powder form, as well as 1,300 suspected fentanyl pills, 150 suspected methamphetamine pills and drug paraphernalia. The combined street value of the narcotics is estimated to be $995,000.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Two milligrams are considered a lethal dose. Rodriguez allegedly had over 800,000 such doses of fentanyl.
The search and arrest marked the third takedown of a major drug distribution operation in Paterson in the past three months, in the wake of Attorney General Platkin’s March 27, 2023 supersession of the Paterson Police Department.
“Criminal enterprises that set up shop in neighborhoods erode public safety, threaten public health, damage quality of life, and show a disrespect for our communities that will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Illegal drugs are poison for users and for those municipalities where an illicit drug marketplace has taken hold. My office, the New Jersey State Police and the Paterson Police Department will continue working to rid the city of Paterson — and the State of New Jersey – of these illegal enterprises.”
“Fentanyl is an extraordinarily dangerous drug that can be lethal in small doses and has contributed to a spike in overdose deaths in the past decade,” said Derek Nececkas, Interim Director of the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ). “This arrest takes a suspected major source of that drug in the city of Paterson offline, helping to protect the public from exposure to this potentially deadly substance and furthering our efforts to reduce crime and enhance safety in the city.”
Rodriguez was suspected of distributing large amounts of fentanyl pills throughout Paterson, and the NJSP began their investigation of his alleged drug trafficking in May 2023. Probable cause was established and a search of the house was authorized by a state Superior Court judge in Passaic County, leading to the drug confiscations. The drug production facility was within 1,000 feet — a four-minute walk — from the B.J. Wilkerson Memorial Child Development Center on Haledon Avenue in Paterson.
The arrest of Rodriguez comes about three weeks after a Paterson man was arrested on drug possession charges and city police seized over $100,000 worth of narcotics in connection with an alleged drug distribution scheme out of a residence on Chadwick Street, a block away from St. Joseph’s University Medical Center.
That investigation targeted drug suspect Niair Lane. Detectives who had been conducting surveillance on Lane searched the house on June 7, 2023, and found more than 5,500 suspected Oxycodone pills, one 30-gram bag of cocaine, five bags of marijuana, six bags of marijuana concentrate both weighing almost 24 ounces, and one ecstasy pill. The street value was estimated to be over $115,000.
Back in April, state and local law enforcement seized drugs worth an estimated $1.6 million during an unrelated investigation.
That operation was launched in February 2023, when detectives from the DCJ Violence Suppression and Organized Crime Unit and the PPD Narcotics Unit began investigating a suspected drug mill being operated in Paterson’s Eastside neighborhood. Through various investigative means, detectives determined that Paterson resident Felix Rodriguez, 40, was allegedly operating a CDS production facility from an apartment on East 26th Street.
According to the investigation, police executed search warrants on April 12, 2023, at the East 26th Street location and at the defendant’s apartment on East 28th Street. At the East 26th Street address, detectives seized two kilos of suspected heroin with a street value of $1 million, four kilos of cocaine with a street value of $220,000, and various paraphernalia indicative of a milling operation for the packaging of CDS. At the suspect’s residence on East 28th Street, detectives seized two and a half kilos of crystal methamphetamine with a street value of $400,000, half a kilo of cocaine with a street value of $28,000, and a .357 revolver. The defendant was arrested at his residence and transported to the Paterson Police Department for processing.
The charges against the defendants in these cases are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The case against Pedro Rodriguez Avalo is being prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Benjamin Forrest of the DCJ Violence Suppression and Organized Crime Unit, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Cynthia Vazquez, Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, Deputy Director of DCJ Erik Daab and DCJ Acting Director Nececkas. The investigation was handled by the NJSP Drug Trafficking North Unit.
Defense attorney for Rodriguez: Matthew Skinner, Office of the Public Defender