Leader and Three Other Men Sentenced to Prison for Operating a Newark Heroin and Cocaine Ring 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 three other ring members were sentenced to prison today for operating 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.

The following men previously pleaded guilty to racketeering – with the exception of Benabe, who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault – and were sentenced today by 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.

Deputy Attorney General Jamie Picard prosecuted the defendants for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. Those 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 this criminal syndicate run by the Latin Kings 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 have sent 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.”

“Investigations targeting gangs, guns and drugs are a top priority for the Division of Criminal Justice, and this case is a prime example of our collaborative work with the State Police and other state, county and local law enforcement partners,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Putting these violent Latin Kings members behind bars will make Newark’s neighborhoods safer.”

“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 prison sentences 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.”

The following men also pleaded guilty previously in Operation Peddling Misery:

Japhet Lopez, Kiele Lopez, Carlos Rodriguez, Julio Benabe, Justin Rodriguez and Israel Carreras 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. Yaritza Perez pleaded guilty to third-degree distribution of narcotics and was sentenced today to probation.

Defense Attorneys:
For Japhet Lopez: Marco Laracca, Esq., Bio & Laracca, P.C., Orange, N.J.
For Kiele Lopez: Christopher Dunn, Esq., Scotch Plains, N.J.
For Carlos Rodriguez: John McGovern, Esq., Scranton, Pa.
For Julio Benabe: Bernardo W. Henry, Esq., Orange, N.J.

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