AG: Union City, NB men among 12 charged in Internet-based drug scheme

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Two men, one from North Bergen and another from Union City, were among a dozen charged in an Internet-based drug dealing scheme known as “Operation Skin Deep,” Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman announced.

Photos courtesy of State Attorney General's Office.
Photos courtesy of State Attorney General’s Office.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a first-degree racketeering indictment charging 12 men in connection with a drug ring that marketed cocaine and designer drugs online and distributed them via the mail, officials said yesterday.

They were charged in an ongoing investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice called Operation Skin Deep, which also led to a second indictment charging three men with selling cocaine in Atlantic City.

Operation Skin Deep began as an undercover investigation into cocaine sales in Atlantic City, but ultimately exposed an alleged narcotics network that was using the Internet to arrange mail-order sales of cocaine and designer drugs, including ethylone, which is known as “M” and is similar to ecstasy.

Investigators also allegedly uncovered a conspiracy by the alleged leader of that ring, Christopher Castelluzzo, and three other members of the enterprise to murder a former associate and his bodyguard.

“Our racketeering indictment alleges that this ring of criminals had a cyber-age approach to distributing multiple kilograms of cocaine as well as designer drugs,” Hoffman said in a statement.

“However, we allege that they were typical drug dealers in their willingness to resort to violence, as evidenced by the murder conspiracy we charged. Our seizure of $1.2 million from the trunk of a ring member – one of the largest cash seizures in state history – speaks to the huge illicit profits these drug traffickers were reaping.”

The indictments were obtained on Thursday, March 3, by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, but they were not announced until yesterday because detectives are seeking several defendants who remain fugitives.

The first indictment charges the following 10 men with first-degree racketeering. The first three men allegedly formed a partnership to distribute cocaine and designer drugs through mail-order Internet sales.

The other men are alleged associates who took part in the criminal enterprise.

Partners

Christopher C. Castelluzzo, 31, of Lake Hopatcong, who is charged with the first-degree crime of leader of a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a sentence of life in state prison, including 25 years of parole ineligibility.

Luke A. Atwell, 34, of Hamilton, who allegedly acted as a managerial partner for the ring; and

Aldo T. Lapaix, 28, of Absecon, who allegedly helped procure drugs for the ring to sell and handled the packaging and shipping of drugs.

Associates

Eric Rodriguez, 45, of Cliffside Park, who allegedly made bulk purchases of cocaine with Castelluzzo.

Henry Bracy, 46, of New York, N.Y.

Shazad Khan, 32, of North Bergen

Jose A. Garcia-Hernandez, 51, of Absecon

Mervin Menier, 43, of Union City

Christian Collado, 27, of Pleasantville

“Dre,” an unidentified male

Castelluzzo, Atwell, Rodriguez and Bracy are charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly plotting to murder two men – a former associate and his bodyguard – in a dispute over drugs and drug proceeds.

The men allegedly took a number of steps in preparation to kill the targeted victims, but the murders were never carried out.

The first-degree charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder each carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, 85 percent of which must be served without possibility of parole.

In addition, Castelluzzo, Atwell, Lapaix, Menier, Collado and “Dre” are charged with first-degree distribution of cocaine or possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

The indictment also charges the following two defendants:

Jose Ruvalcaba, 28, of Oxnard, C.A.

Jamaal Johnson, 30, of Baltimore, M.D.

Ruvalcaba is a tractor-trailer driver who was arrested with Khan by detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice in a parking lot off Union Turnpike in North Bergen on April 24, 2015.

Detectives found approximately $1.2 million in cash in the trunk of Kahn’s Infiniti, wrapped in bundles with duct tape. That seizure is among the largest cash seizures in New Jersey law enforcement history.

Kahn allegedly met Ruvalcaba at the location so that Ruvalcaba could transport the cash in his tractor-trailer as payment for cocaine. Khan and Ruvalcaba are charged in the indictment with first-degree money laundering and first-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Johnson is charged with second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine, along with 10 of the other defendants – all except Ruvalcaba.

In addition, Johnson is charged with second-degree eluding for allegedly fleeing on April 17, 2015, when detectives attempted to stop his car after he allegedly purchased cocaine from Castelluzzo at a nightclub in Passaic, the Omni Lounge, which is owned by Castelluzzo and Atwell.

The second indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau charges the following three men with distributing cocaine in Atlantic City