A massive sweep of a multimillion-dollar heroin ring led to charges against 52 people, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni announced during a press conference in Freehold on Monday.
The arrests marked the culmination of an eight-month long investigation, titled Operation Hats Off, which began last spring after the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) received information regarding gang activity and heroin distribution in the Jersey Shore area. Gramiccioni said the prosecutor’s office would continue to aggressively pursue drug distribution in the county.
“This isn’t going to happen in my county. Don’t bring it into Monmouth because we’re going to find you. We have eyes and ears across the county,” Gramiccioni said. “The people that are inclined to commit these crimes should know about it. We’re going to find you, we’re going to arrest you and we’re going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
Operation Hats Off targeted members of the Fruit Town Brims, a subset of the Bloods street gang, and their affiliates, who prosecutors allege were responsible for selling approximately 200 bricks of heroin per week. Gramiccioni estimated the street value of the heroin trafficked during the investigation exceeded $2 million.
The 52 individuals arrested included three primary suppliers, who arranged for the purchase and transportation of the heroin out of Essex County. Prosecutors allege the primary suppliers of the heroin were Hassain Jenkins, 39, of Orange; Roger Barber, 40, of Newark; and Louis Pennington, 29, of Long Branch.
Mid-level suppliers, including alleged ringleaders Ronald Daniels Jr., 23, of Long Branch and Anna Flores, 21, of Highlands, conspired to distribute the heroin throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties, according to Gramiccioni.
Other alleged mid-level suppliers include: Christopher Moon, 21, of Highlands; Ezra Strong, 22, of Long Branch; Donte Gilliard, 22, of Long Branch; Dashawn Graves, 20, of Newark; Damier Johnson, 22, of Long Branch; and Hakeem Wadud, 22, of Paterson.
The remainder of those charged were allegedly repeat buyers, Gramiccioni said. These buyers included residents of Atlantic Highlands, Bayville, Eatontown, Little Silver, Long Branch, Neptune, Oceanport, Red Bank, Rumson, Sea Bright and West Long Branch.
“Heroin is pervasive throughout all walks of society. It doesn’t discriminate with regard to age, sex, race or ethnicity, or anyone’s level of affluence or socioeconomic status. It’s poisoning our communities,” Gramiccioni said.
MCPO Chief of Detectives Michael Pasterchick noted that the purity of heroin sold in New Jersey makes it especially addictive.
“We all know that this drug enslaves its users. Of those who become addicted to heroin, only 20 percent will go on to lead productive lives,” Pasterchick said. “We need to get this message out about the perils of heroin abuse.”
Weapons, Heroin Seized
During the course of the investigation, officers seized significant amounts of heroin, cash and firearms.
On Monday, Nov. 19, law enforcement officers recovered approximately 100 bricks of heroin from an automobile in Eatontown during a routine vehicle stop, according to a press release issued by the MCPO.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, law enforcement officers stopped Jenkins and Barber on the eastbound side of Route 36 in Tinton Falls. During that stop, officers recovered two packages, each containing 100 bricks of heroin. Jenkins and Barber were charged with narcotics-related offenses and remain incarcerated at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution (MCCI) in lieu of bail.
Officers raided an Atlantic Avenue apartment in Long Branch apartment on Thursday, Dec. 13. While executing the search warrant, officers recovered 130 bricks of heroin valued at $130,000, as well as $10,000 cash, according to a press release issued by the MCPO. Three individuals at the residence - Michael Marshall, 62 of Long Branch; Tau Kamau, a.k.a. “Kevin Smith,” 40, of Long Branch; and Ronald Daniels, Sr., 42, of Long Branch – were charged with narcotics-related offenses and also remain incarcerated at MCCI.
Searches simultaneously executed on Monday at residences located at Rustic Drive in Ocean Township and Fourth Street in Highlands resulted in the seizure of additional quantities of narcotics, firearms and cash.
Of the 52 individuals charged, 41 have been arrested and 11 remain at large.