Leader and Three Other Men Plead Guilty in Connection With Heroin and Cocaine Ring in Newark Linked to Latin Kings Gang – New Jersey State Police & AG's Office dismantled violent drug ring in “Operation Peddling Misery”

TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that the leader and another ring member pleaded guilty today in connection with a drug ring in Newark linked to the Latin Kings street gang. The defendants were charged in “Operation Peddling Misery,” an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and Division of Criminal Justice that targeted a violent narcotics distribution enterprise that was dealing large quantities of heroin and crack cocaine. Two other ring members pleaded guilty previously.

The following men pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Nancy Sivilli in Essex County:

Japhet and Kiele Lopez held top leadership positions in the Newark Chapter of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (ALKQN) street gang. Japhet Lopez was the ALKQN Second Crown or “Casique,” and was a former Third Crown or “Warlord,” acting as head of security. Sentencing for the four defendants is scheduled for May 25.

Deputy Attorney General Jamie Picard took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. The four men were indicted along with 11 other defendants on July 13, 2017. The indictment stemmed from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime North Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice, assisted by the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Newark Police Department and New Jersey State Parole Board. The investigation revealed that the criminal syndicate run by the Latin Kings allegedly used violence to defend its turf and routinely beat its own members as “discipline” if they disobeyed gang rules or orders from gang leaders.

“We’re sending the leaders of this gang-run drug ring to prison, where they won’t be able to spread addiction in New Jersey with their heroin and cocaine trafficking, or spread gun violence in Newark with their deadly turf battles,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Fighting the epidemic of drug addiction and reducing violent crime are two of my top priorities as Attorney General, and investigations such as this one take aim at both of these scourges.”

“Through this far-reaching investigation, we charged the entire hierarchy of this drug syndicate, from top leaders of the Latin Kings in Newark down to street-level dealers,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These guilty pleas carry lengthy prison sentences, and we expect to send additional ring members to prison in the months ahead.”

“The leaders of this Latin Kings gang were so cold and ruthless, they viciously beat their own members who fell out of line and were willing to kill to defend their drug-dealing turf,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “These guilty pleas are the result of the great investigative work of the State Police Gangs and Organized Crime Unit and our partners at the Attorney General's Office, whose tireless work has ensured that these men will not be free to walk the streets of Newark for years to come.”

Japhet Lopez, Kiele Lopez, Carlos Rodriguez and three other men – Justin Rodriguez, Israel Carreras, and Julio Benabe – were charged in connection with the criminal restraint and attempted armed robbery of a member of a rival gang, the Triniterios, or 3NI, on May 5, 2016. They allegedly dragged the victim into the basement of an apartment building at 223 Mount Prospect Avenue in northern Newark, which served as a stronghold for the Latin Kings, where they restrained and beat him. During the incident, Luis Alequin, a Latin Kings gang member, was shot and killed in a stairwell of the building by individuals suspected to be associates of the robbery victim who came looking for him. The robbery victim broke free when the shots rang out and escaped through a back door of the building.

During the investigation, sales of hundreds of wax folds of heroin by members of the drug ring, as well as sales of crack cocaine, were captured via surveillance at 223 Mount Prospect Avenue. In addition, sales of hundreds of vials of crack cocaine by ring members, as well as sales of heroin, were captured via surveillance at 38 May Street, an apartment building where Kiele Lopez lived with his girlfriend, Yaritza Perez, who also was charged in the indictment. Four handguns, including two defaced guns, more than 300 wax folds of heroin, over 100 vials of crack cocaine, and copies of the Latin Kings manifesto and other gang literature and paraphernalia were seized when search warrants were executed at those two locations and other residences of gang members.

Deputy Attorney General Jamie Picard 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. Attorney General Grewal commended those prosecutors, along with all of the members of the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime North Unit who conducted the investigation, particularly the lead detectives: Detective Scott Sanders and Detective Paul Chiaramonte. Attorney General Grewal also thanked the members of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Narcotics, Newark Police Department 2nd Precinct, and New Jersey State Parole Board Gang Investigation Unit for their valuable assistance in the investigation.

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