UNION COUNTY — The Union County Prosecutor’s Office broke up two high-volume heroin mills after raids in Union and Linden.
“We had a historic seizure of heroin,” said acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park, explaining that this was the largest seizure of heroin in the last decade in the county.
As a result of the bust, eight people were arrested Friday and the equivalent of more than 4,300 bricks of heroin was seized following the dismantling of two fully functional, high-volume heroin mills illegally operating in Linden and Union.
The raids followed a month-long joint investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office of Guns, Gangs, Drugs and Violent Crimes Task Force and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Search warrants were executed Nov. 14 at the two heroin mills located on the 300 block of Richford Terrace in Linden and the 2100 block of Morris Avenue in Union. Additional raids also took place on Florida Street and Seib Avenue in Elizabeth.
At the Linden location, authorities entered a second-floor of a two-family home where they discovered a heroin-packaging operation in the kitchen. The operation was located in a quiet, residential neighborhood, Park said and residents downstairs were unaware a heroin mill was operating above them.
Authorities from the Drug Enforcement Administration said the dismantling of two heroin mills will result in reducing hundreds of thousands of personal hits of heroin reaching the streets.
Raw heroin, Park explained, was actively being processed and prepared for street sale at the Linden location, with authorities seizing more than 2,300 grams of raw, uncut heroin; more than 1,400 bricks of processed heroin, with 50 bags to each brick; and more than 13,000 additional loose bags of heroin. The combined total of all seized narcotics, she added, amounted to approximately 5.5 kilograms of heroin.
According to the investigation report, the heroin mills not only supplied wholesale-quantity amounts of narcotics to at least five counties throughout New Jersey, but also to multiple out-of-state urban areas.
Also seized at the Florida Street residence was a loaded 40-caliber handgun with hollow-point ammunition, an extended 30-round ammunition magazine, a silencer and a bulletproof vest.
Along with narcotics, searches of the heroin mills also turned up thousands of unused folds for the packaging of drugs, plus ink pads, face masks, grinders, strainers, hundreds of grams of a “cutting agent,” which is added to the raw heroin, and numerous cell phones.
During the raid investigators also seized a 2002 GMC Envoy and a search of this vehicle uncovered a hidden trap door underneath a rear seat that opened and closed electronically. Authorities said the SUV was used to transport large quantities of heroin out of state for distribution.
Arrested as a result of the investigation were William Camino, 35, of Elizabeth; Yakin Bryant, 34, of Elizabeth; Ricardo Gayle, 25, of Plainfield; Jasmin Sanchez, 23, of Jersey City; Arain Juarez-Alverez, 25, of Bronx, N.Y.; Frank Pino, 29, of Elizabeth; Lakisha Mensah, 24, of East Windsor; and Eraiadna Victoria Mentor, 23, of Linden.
Camino was charged with first-degree acting as the leader of a drug-trafficking organization; first-degree possession of heroin with the intent to distribute, second-degree conspiracy and two lesser drug offenses. Camino’s bail was set at $2 million by state Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donahue.
Bryant, Gayle and Sanchez were charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree maintaining a drug manufacturing facility, first-degree possession of heroin with the intent to distribute, second-degree conspiracy and related charges, with bail set at $1.5 million for Bryant and $500,000 apiece for Gayle and Sanchez.
Juarez-Alverez, Pino and Mensah all were charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree maintaining a drug manufacturing facility, first degree possession of heroin with the intent to distribute and two lesser drug offenses, with bail set at $100,000 apiece for Gayle and Sanchez. Mentor was charged with a second-degree weapons offense and third-degree conspiracy, with bail set at $75,000.
Second-degree crimes typically carry penalties of 5 to 10 years in state prison, while third-degree crimes typically result in terms of 3 to five years in state prison.
The prosecutor’s office expressed “deep gratitude” to the various additional law enforcement agencies that provided invaluable assistance in the investigation and executing search warrants. Included was the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Union County Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Department, Union County Emergency Response Team SWAT Unit and the Elizabeth, Union and Linden police departments.
Also participating in the investigation was the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force, which consists of police officers from Berkeley Heights, Roselle Park, Clark, Springfield and Westfield.
The latest arrests followed on the heels of a September bust that took place in Plainfield’s West End. At that time county and local authorities executed search warrants targeting several apartments in the city. A search subsequently uncovered a total of 125 bags of heroin and 44 bags of crack cocaine.
These recent heroin raids underscored the serious problem Union County and the state has been facing in the last several years with heroin.
According to a report issued by the Task force on Heroin and Opiate Use in New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adult, heroin and opiate use was the number one health care crisis confronting the state.
Recently reported in a series LocalSource did on the heroin epidemic in Union County, state reports found street heroin is on average stronger than heroin sold in other states. For example, typical heroin purity levels in New Jersey exceed 40 percent, while in the New England area, the average purity levels hovered around 15 percent.
In fact, DEA reports indicated purity levels in New Jersey have reached as high as 80 percent, which they said makes ingesting street heroin “like playing Russian roulette.”
Another report issued by the state this year indicated drug overdose deaths in New Jersey now surpass deaths from motor vehicle accidents, which had always been the leading cause of accidental death.
This can be seen in the number of drug related deaths in the state over a period of several years. State numbers released by Attorney General John Hoffman revealed that heroin and morphine related deaths have risen sharply the last few years, with 449 deaths in 2011, 591 in 2012 and 380 in the first six months of this year.
In 2013, 16,652 residents from suburban towns saw treatment for heroin addiction, compared to 10,765 residents from urban areas. Admissions for treatment have actually spiked in counties like Ocean and Cape May. Some even are turning away those seeking help for heroin addiction, state officials reported.
Part of the problem New Jersey faces with the heroin epidemic is this street drug can be bought cheap here. According to one state source heroin can be bought on the street in towns like Cranford, Linden, Union and Westfield for as little as $5 a bag, and it’s more potent than anywhere else in the country.
The fact the state expanded the use of Narcan, an anti-overdosing drug police are now using in Union County, could have an impact on those statistics.
Authorizing police departments in the state to start using Narcan in June was a crucial step, because officers usually arrive first on the scene when there is a heroin or opiate overdose.
Narcan is an opiate or heroin antidote used when a person has overdosed. After a dose of Narcan, the result of the heroin or opiate overdose can be reversed and a person may recover from an unconscious state.
In Union County the use of Narcon has saved people from heroin overdoses. Most recently on Nov. 13 a Clark police officer used Narcan for the third time in a month when they responded to a call in the Target parking lot and used the Narcon spray to revive a victim who likely would have died otherwise.
Cranford police have also used Narcan to revive victims of an overdose. At the end of October they used the spray twice in 24-hours on two victims suspected of having heroin overdoses.
Cranford Police Chief James Wozniak said this was the department’s first use of Narcon since police officers began carrying the nasal spray in June, but it was a lifesaver.
“Heroin and narcotic overdoses have the potential to devastate the lives of victims and their families in our community,” he said, adding “Having Narcan in our toolbox gives us the opportunity to avert a tragedy every time we use it.”