A network of drug dealers in Camden’s Cooper Lanning and Bergen Square neighborhoods—36 men and women in all—were indicted by a state grand jury last week, the state attorney general’s office announced Friday.
Dubbed "Operation Billboard," the arrests started coming down on May 30, 2012, for a heroin network in the heart of Camden that Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said involved gang members from members of the Ñetas and Latin Kings street gangs. The network raked in tens of thousands per week, Chiesa said.
Joseph Rivera, 28, of Cherry Hill, also known as “Baby,” was one of six so-called "case workers," upper-level managers who dealt with street dealers to insulate the network’s top men.
Rivera and the other case workers were responsible for territory mostly in the southern part of Cooper Lanning and the northern part of Bergen Square, according to the attorney general.
There, packages of heroin stamped with brand names like “A+,” “Major League,” “Hot Party,” “El Tiger,” and “Ice Cream” were handed out to lower-level managers and dealers, authorities said.
Rivera and his fellow case managers were in the area, but rarely at the spots where individual deals took place, according to authorities.
“We sent investigators into the area surrounding 4th and Royden Streets because it has been a hotbed of violence, including daytime shootings,” said Chiesa in a statement.
“By identifying this large, well-organized criminal enterprise and targeting the organization from top to bottom with a first-degree racketeering indictment, we’re taking strong aim at the drug dealing that is fueling violence and destroying the lives of residents in this section of Camden.
"These defendants will face lengthy prison sentences without parole if convicted of the charges against them,” Chisea's statement read.
Rivera, like every other defendant in the case, faces first-degree racketeering and second-degree conspiracy charges, with the racketeering charge alone carrying potentially 10 to 20 years in state prison and a $200,000 fine.
Vicente Porrata, 47, of Merchantville, also known as “Lluvia,” distributed heroin for the network through Audubon, Haddon Township and Camden City, and laundered its money, the indictment alleges. Porrata faces 10 to 20 years in prison on the distribution charge, and a possible $500,000 fine for the alleged money laundering.
Two men alone ran the entire network, Chisea said. They are Noel Gonzalez, 43, of Camden, a reputed member of the Ñetas also known as “Noel Ripoll,” and his alleged partner, Michael Rivera, 29, aka “Bute,” also of Camden.
Both Gonzalez and Michael Rivera are charged with the first-degree crime of leader of a narcotics trafficking network; each faces life in prison if convicted.
When arrests in the case began back on May 30, 2012, investigators executed search warrants at five homes, including Gonzalez’s Collings Road home, which isn’t far from Yorkship Elementary School in Camden’s Fairview section.
The arrests and searches netted roughly three-quarters of a kilogram of heroin, $52,000 in cash, $20,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency and a .40-caliber handgun, authorities said. Eight vehicles were also seized in the investigation.
The indictments were handed down in Mercer County, but the entire case has been assigned to Camden County.
Indicted in Operation Billboard were:
- Noel Gonzalez, 43, of Camden, aka “Noel Ripoll.”
- Michael Rivera, 29, of Camden, aka “Bute.”
- William Alvarez, 36, of Camden, aka “June” and “Beatle.”
- Angel L. Martinez, 28, of Camden, aka “Gunz,” an alleged Ñetas gang member.
- Joseph Rivera, 28, of Cherry Hill, aka “Baby.”
- Samuel Serrano, 25, of Camden, aka “Sammy.”
- Fred Alvarado, 47, of Camden, aka “Freddy,” an alleged Latin Kings gang member.
- Jonathan Santiago, 32, of Camden, aka “Shorty” and “Chico.”
- Wilkins Castro, 33, of Camden.
- Cindy M. Scanes, 27, of Camden, aka “Fat Cindy.”
- Jonathan Roman, 23, of Camden, aka “Papo.”
- JessMarie Ramirez, 31, of Camden, aka “Jessie.”
- Michael Ortiz, 20, of Camden, aka “Mikey.”
- Edguardo Ortiz, 21, of Camden, aka “Bebe.”
- Christopher Vasquez, 21, of Camden.
- George Rivera, 28, of Camden, aka “Ant,” “Anthony,” and “Angel.”
- Giovanni Mercado, 21, of Camden.
- Miguel Bello, 21, of Pennsauken.
- Victoria Ventura, 24, of Camden.
- Timothy Peters, 19, of Camden, aka “White Boy.”
- Luis Vazquez, 20, of Camden, aka “Lil Lou
- William Rivera, 31, of Camden, aka “Butch.”
- Hassan Torres, 25, of Camden, aka “Haz.”
- Jose O. Diaz, 20, of Camden.
- Julio Medina, 22, of Camden, aka “Juli.”
- Victor Serrano, 20, of Camden, aka “Bobo.”
- Juan Santana, 53, of Camden, aka “Chino.”
- Calvin J. Lewis, 23, of Blackwood, aka “CJ”
- Sebastian Cordero, 20, of Camden, aka “Sab.”
- Jonathan Vasquez, 19, of Camden.
- Dewayne Shines, 21, of Camden, aka “D-Block.”
- *Vicente Porrata, 47, of Merchantville, aka “Lluvia.”
- Virgilio Vargas, Jr., 25, of Camden, aka “June.”
- *Gregorio Laboy, Jr., 22, of Camden, aka “Cono.”
- Luis Rodriguez, 53, of Camden, aka “Miro.”
- Luz Ripoll, 39, of Philadelphia.