TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced the indictment of nine men who allegedly were part of a criminal network in Camden County that was dealing cocaine and illegally trafficking untraceable assault rifles known as “ghost guns” assembled from kits purchased online.
The Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau yesterday obtained a 36-count indictment variously charging the nine defendants with numerous weapons and narcotics offenses, including charges related to the ghost guns. The indictment stems from “Operation Stone Wall,” a year-long investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey State Police that marked the first time charges were filed in a ghost gun trafficking case under a new law signed by Governor Murphy in November 2018 that makes it a crime to buy, manufacture, possess or sell ghost guns in New Jersey.
Ghost guns are not registered and do not have serial numbers, making them difficult to trace and making it harder for law enforcement to solve gun crimes. Fourteen guns were recovered in the investigation, including the six ghost gun AR-15 assault rifles. Parts for two more AR-15 ghost guns also were seized.
Most of the defendants were arrested in March 2019. “Operation Stone Wall” began as an investigation of cocaine distribution in Lindenwold, N.J., but expanded when detectives learned certain ring members were trafficking “ghost gun” assault rifles. Seven men are charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, including two defendants who also are charged with illegal gun trafficking. The two remaining defendants are charged solely in connection with the illegal gun trafficking. The State Police and Division of Criminal Justice were assisted by numerous law enforcement agencies, listed below.
During the operation, investigators captured defendants discussing that a gun sale would be delayed because they could no longer have guns shipped to New Jersey, due to the new criminal law, and they would instead need to have them shipped to Pennsylvania. On March 13, 2019 authorities intercepted parts for two more assault rifles allegedly ordered by two defendants for shipment to Bensalem, Pa.
“This indictment is an important milestone in this first-ever criminal prosecution aimed at protecting the public from the grave threat posed by the trafficking of ghost guns into New Jersey and into the hands of criminals,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We have taken strong action to stop manufacturers from selling these dangerous guns in our state, and we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute any ghost gun buyers and builders who violate our new criminal statute. We undoubtedly saved lives by stopping more of these untraceable assault weapons from reaching the street.”
“In passing the law criminalizing ghost guns in New Jersey, the Governor and state legislators recognized the threat posed by these guns and provided law enforcement with important tools to address it,” Attorney General Grewal added. “This case shows that the threat is real and it demonstrates our resolve to use the new tools that we have been provided.”
“Operation Stone Wall is an excellent example of law enforcement agencies working together to follow every lead – in this case, expanding an investigation that started with drug trafficking to target an especially dangerous form of weapons trafficking,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “There is no telling how many untraceable assault rifles might have been sold by the alleged conspirators had it not been for the vigilance and diligence of our investigative team.”
“The defendants arrested as a result of ‘Operation Stone Wall’ sought to profit from the manufacturing and trafficking of untraceable firearms, which pose a threat to public safety and aid violent criminals who wish to remain undetected,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “The collaborative investigation between the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice demonstrates our commitment to protecting our neighborhoods from the death and despair created by the deadly mix of drugs and illegal guns. We will continue to utilize every investigative tool at our disposal to ensure that these weapons do not end up in the hands of criminals.”
Deputy Attorney General Cassandra Montalto is the lead prosecutor for Operation Stone Wall for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Erik Daab and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis. Detective Ryan Cunningham is the case agent for the New Jersey State Police Gangs and Organized Crime South Unit, under the supervision of Detective Sgt. Dorothy Quinn, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Michael Davis, and Lt. Daniel Strassheim.
Attorney General Grewal thanked the following agencies that assisted in the investigation and execution of warrants: NJSP TEAMS Unit South, NJSP Canine Unit South, FBI, Voorhees Township Police Department, Mt. Ephraim Police Department, Deptford Police Department, Gloucester Township Police Department, Lindenwold Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, and Camden County Sheriff’s Office.
The investigation initially focused on the alleged cocaine distribution activities of Lamont White, his son, Tyriek Bradford, and their associate, John Rayford, all of Lindenwold, N.J. Those defendants are not charged in this indictment. The charges filed against them in March 2019 remain pending.
The investigation quickly expanded to include other individuals allegedly involved in distributing cocaine, including Christopher Stoner of Lindenwold, who allegedly supplied cocaine to White, and the following associates from whom Stoner allegedly obtained cocaine: Nicholas Cilien, Bryheem Belcher, Michael Smith, Fabian Sapp, and Devon Davis. Another alleged cocaine supplier for the ring who was arrested in March, Monroe Gadson, is not charged in this indictment. The charges filed against Gadson at that time remain pending.
As the investigation expanded, detectives learned that Stoner allegedly was involved in illegal sales of guns, including ghost guns. During the investigation, Stoner and Cilien allegedly conspired with two other men – Paul Corum and Marc Freeman, both of Lindenwold – to sell ghost guns, specifically six unregistered AR-15 assault rifles, which Freeman allegedly assembled using kits he and Corum purchased on the internet.
The assault rifles allegedly were sold for prices ranging from $1,100 to $1,300 per gun. Corum was the defendant captured discussing with Cilien that a new criminal law had been passed so that they needed to ship guns to Pennsylvania instead of New Jersey. The gun parts intercepted in Bensalem on March 13, 2019 were allegedly ordered by Freeman and Corum.
The indictment also charges Dwayne Hagans. Detectives developed information that cocaine was being supplied to a ring member from Hagans’ residence. A search warrant was executed on March 8, 2019 at the residence, where investigators seized over 17 grams of cocaine and drug packaging materials.
The defendants are charged in the indictment as follows:
During the investigation, investigators seized 525 grams of cocaine, with a street value of $18,500 to $37,000. On March 8, 2019, in addition to searching Hagans’ residence, detectives executed search warrants at homes of other defendants. At Stoner’s residence, they seized a handgun, a small amount of crack cocaine, a scale, drug packaging materials, and $1,738 in cash. At Cilien’s residence, they seized a handgun, a shotgun, about 120 oxycodone and Xanax pills, drug packaging materials, and $2,095 in cash. At Gadson’s residence in Camden, they seized two handguns, about 3.5 pounds of marijuana, drug packaging materials, and $18,420 in cash. At the residence of Corum and Freeman, they seized tools used to assemble ghost guns, as well as two handguns and a shotgun.
Cilien and Corum were ordered detained until trial. The other defendants named in the indictment were ordered released with conditions following detention hearings in March, with the exception of Hagans, who was initially charged by summons.
The first-degree narcotics charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charge of possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The third-degree drug charges carry enhanced fines of up to $35,000 for the possession charges or $75,000 for the distribution charges.
The charges are merely accusations 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 Camden County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.
For Stoner: Andrew Bitar, Esq., Manalapan, N.J.
For Cilien: Robert C. Wolf, Esq., Westmont, N.J.
For Belcher: Charles H. Nugent Jr., Esq., Marlton, N.J.
For Smith: Robert N. Agre, Esq., Haddonfield, N.J.
For Sapp: Edward J. Crisonino, Esq., Westmont, N.J.
For Davis: Mark A. Bernstein, Esq., Cherry Hill, N.J.
For Corum: Assistant Deputy Public Defender Daniel Peshkin, Camden County.
For Freeman: Thomas DeMarco, Esq., Mt Ephraim, N.J.
For Hagans: Undetermined.