TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced the indictment of nine members of a major cocaine supply network in Paterson, N.J., as a result of “Operation Stillwater,” an investigation led by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, New Jersey State Police and Pennsylvania State Police.
During the eight-month investigation, investigators seized nearly eight kilos of cocaine, a small quantity of heroin, 82 pills containing fentanyl, three handguns and over $76,000 in cash. The Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau today obtained a state grand jury indictment charging all nine defendants with second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Eight of the nine defendants also face various first-degree charges.
The following three alleged top suppliers in the network are each charged with promoting organized street crime, a first-degree charge that carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in state prison:
Peguero-Nin, an alleged member of the Trinitarios, or 3NI, street gang, allegedly supplied cocaine to another alleged Trinitario, Jeffrey Jaquez, 27, of Passaic, N.J., who in turn allegedly supplied street-level dealers. Jaquez at times allegedly obtained cocaine directly from Mena-Acevedo. Jaquez faces multiple first-degree counts of distribution of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
“By dismantling this supply network and locking up its members, we cut off a major source of cocaine for drug dealers in and around New Jersey’s third-largest city,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Rather than just locking up street-level dealers or low-level members of this network, we cut deep into the supply line, which is the best way to stop the flow of these destructive drugs into our communities. We also seized evidence that defendants were dealing heroin and the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.”
“Beyond fueling addiction, these narcotics also fuel the violence that inevitably accompanies open-air drug dealing and its turf battles,” added Attorney General Grewal. “The guns that were seized in this investigation and the alleged gang affiliations that were uncovered further illustrate the danger posed to the Paterson community by the activities of this criminal syndicate.”
“As a result of this in-depth investigation, we have charged three alleged top members of this cocaine supply network with promoting organized street crime, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend the attorneys and detectives in the Division of Criminal Justice and our partners in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, New Jersey State Police and Pennsylvania State Police for thoroughly investigating the activities of this network and enabling us to bring first-degree charges against its alleged members.”
“I want to commend the Attorney General’s Office, both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Police, and all the members of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office for their work in this investigation,” said Passaic County Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik. “This comprehensive, multi-agency operation not only yielded significant results, but it also helped to stop a large-scale, Passaic County-based narcotics distribution ring.”
Juan Ruiz-Montano, 37, of Bronx, N.Y., allegedly worked with Encarnacion to distribute cocaine. He was arrested on Dec. 12, 2017, when his SUV was stopped after he left Encarnacion’s apartment. Investigators executed a search warrant and found six kilos of cocaine, a scale, and $4,500 in a hidden compartment. Ruiz-Montano is charged with first-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
The indictment charges two people who allegedly worked directly for Mena-Acevedo: his girlfriend, Emily Aracena-Freijomil, 24, of Paterson, and Juan Duran, 23, of Paterson. They allegedly cut and packaged cocaine and conducted drug transactions at the direction of Mena-Acevedo. Mena-Acevedo and Aracena-Freijomil, who lived together on 20th Avenue in Paterson, are each charged with first-degree maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility. Duran faces one count of second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He is the only defendant who does not face a first-degree charge.
The indictment also charges two individuals who allegedly worked for Peguero-Nin, conducting drug transactions at his direction: Chamil Polanco, 24 of Paterson, N.J., and a second man known by the nickname “Gingo” who remains unidentified. Peguero-Nin, Polanco and Gingo allegedly cut and packaged narcotics for distribution at an apartment they shared on Pearl Street in Paterson. When investigators executed a search warrant at the apartment on December 12, 2017, they seized three handguns, an illegal large-capacity magazine, hollow point bullets, other ammunition, a small quantity of cocaine, 82 pills containing fentanyl, and heroin in various stages of packaging. Peguero-Nin, Polanco and Gingo are each charged with first-degree maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility, various second- and third-degree drug offenses, and second-degree possession of a firearm during commission of a drug offense, among other charges.
Deputy Attorney General Heather Hausleben 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 Annmarie Taggart and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis. Sgt. Patrick J. Sole and Detective Russell Kingsland were the case detectives, working under the supervision of Lt. Brian Bruton and Deputy Chief of Detectives Christopher Donohue. Attorney General Grewal commended those detectives and prosecutors, along with all of the members of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, New Jersey State Police and Pennsylvania State Police who worked on the investigation.
The charge of promoting organized street crime carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison, while the other first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison, and third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison. The first-degree drug charges carry fines of up to $500,000, or up to $750,000 on the charge of maintaining or operating a drug manufacturing facility. The money laundering charges also carry fines of up to $500,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Passaic County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment on the charges.
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