Michael “Bute” Rivera, 31, of Camden, pleaded guilty today to first-degree racketeering before Superior Court Judge John T. Kelley in Camden County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Rivera be sentenced to 16 years in state prison, of which he must serve 13 years and seven months without possibility of parole under the No Early Release Act. Deputy Attorney General Andrew B. Johns, the lead prosecutor for Operation Billboard, handled today’s sentencing. DAG Johns has been assisted by all of the members of the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.
Judge Kelley scheduled sentencing for Rivera for April 10.
In pleading guilty, Rivera admitted that he was partners with the senior leader, Noel Gonzalez, in running the heroin ring. Gonzalez, 44, died of natural causes in June 2013 with charges pending against him. Thirty-six members of the ring, including Rivera and Gonzalez, were indicted on Jan. 9, 2013, as a result of Operation Billboard, which was led by the Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Camden Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police and federal agents from ICE Homeland Security Investigations. More than 30 defendants have entered guilty pleas to charges of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, or narcotics distribution, all of which resulted in state prison sentences ranging from five to 10 years.
“The drug dealers led by Rivera and his deceased partner, Noel Gonzalez, dispensed heroin, violence and fear in their open-air drug markets, which were spread over a large section near Camden’s Central Waterfront,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “By putting Rivera behind bars for many years and sending over 30 co-defendants to prison, we have ended their reign of terror in this neighborhood and cut off a major source of the heroin that is ruining and taking far too many lives across New Jersey.”
“Working with our law enforcement partners, we’ve dismantled three major heroin rings in Camden since 2011 and have assisted the Camden Police and County Prosecutor’s Office in their impressive efforts to turn the tide against drug dealing and violence in the city,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to collaborate in multi-agency investigations targeting the most dangerous criminal syndicates threatening our communities.”
The investigation revealed that Gonzalez and Rivera ran a large-scale drug distribution network that was dealing up to tens of thousands of dollars in heroin per week. In addition to Gonzalez, who was a reputed member of the Ñetas, the leadership of the ring included other members of the Ñetas and Latin Kings street gangs. The ring had a well-defined hierarchy and used guns and violence to protect its turf.
At the time of the initial arrests, investigators executed search warrants at Gonzalez’s residence and four other residences. During the arrests and searches, authorities seized approximately three-quarters of a kilo of heroin; approximately $52,000 in cash; about $20,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency, and a .40-caliber handgun. Eight vehicles also were seized.
Operation Billboard was conducted by the Division of Criminal Justice, the Camden Police Department, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, the New Jersey State Police, and ICE Homeland Security Investigations. Assistance was provided by the Audubon Police Department and the Haddon Township Police Department. Acting Attorney General Hoffman credited Detective Peppi Pichette, Detective Brian Woolston, Detective James Blong III, Detective Jeffrey Lorman, Detective Richard Dasilva Jr., Detective Naike Kudlik, Sgt. Andrea Salvatini, and Lt. Richard Carlin of the Division of Criminal Justice, under the supervision of former Deputy Chief of Detectives Chuck Foley. He also credited Deputy Attorney General Johns and Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, under the direction of Assistant Attorney General Christopher Romanyshyn.