MONMOUTH COUNTY, NJ - The 'wonderful world of Haribo' never thought a bunch of alleged drug dealers would hijack their candy - but they did. Illegal drug products made from commonly sold candy were manufactured in Manalapan, and Monmouth Airport facility according to law enforcement. 

Authorities seized about 20,000 pieces of candy, 1,100 pounds of marijuana and 6,000 flavored vape cartridges, all containing THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.  The estimated street value of the items is nearly $2 million. There were arrests in six New Jersey counties, with charges filed against 24 men and women.  The ring operated on both coasts of the United States. The investigation that led to the arrest was dubbed Operation On The Ropes and was conducted by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics and Criminal Enterprise Unit targeting a large-scale marijuana and THC distribution network operating throughout Monmouth, Ocean, and Bergen counties as well as parts of New York

“Colorful and sugary candy like what we seized are among the best-selling edible pot products on the black market. Counterfeit candy is making the rounds and constitutes an extreme danger to our community, particularly the children,” stated Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. The offenders would remove the candy from its original packaging, spray it with THC, then re-wrap it in attractable colorful packaging, appealing to children and teens. 

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One California man remains at-large and is considered a fugitive from justice, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. One of the men charged, Lee D'Avanzo, 52, is the husband of a TV "Mob Wives" star, prosecutors confirmed. It is also reported that one of the drug ring's leaders who is charged is Dylon J. Addvensky, 27, of Freehold (also owner of Deeez Donutz in Jackson).

VIDEO: Just a few hours after the January 7th, press conference, while speaking at the Monmouth County Reorganization Ceremony, Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden commented on the successful drug bust, complimenting Gramiccioni and his team: 

The detailed news release follows:

The investigation, dubbed Operation On The Ropes uncovered a scheme to secretly convert legitimate candies, including the popular Nerds Rope and Sour Patch candy brands, to an illegal THC-infused product.  THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the substance that creates most of marijuana’s “high.” Operation On The Ropes culminated with the execution of over a dozen search warrants in Monmouth, Ocean, and Bergen counties resulting in the seizure of approximately 21,000 packages of candy infused with suspected THC, 1,100 lbs. of suspected marijuana, and over 6,000 flavored THC vape cartridges, all with an estimated street value of $1.9 million.

“The network operators used regular candy to further their scheme, buying hundreds of boxes of product from wholesalers before transporting it to a processing facility where they would unwrap the individual pieces of candy, lay it out on trays and then spraying the candy with a concentrated formula of THC distillate. Once the THC dried on the candy it was repackaged as an illegal marijuana edibles product for distribution across New Jersey,” explained Gramiccioni.

The illegal operation utilized a warehouse on Park Avenue in Manalapan Township and a hangar at Monmouth Executive Airport in Wall Township as production and storage facilities. The approximate 21,000 pieces of candy were manufactured with unknown amounts of THC and totals over 100,000 individual doses. The THC products that were processed were then intermingled with THC products that the network operators illegally trafficked into New Jersey from a supplier in California.  The THC products have an estimated street value of nearly $900,000.

“The packaging on this THC laced ‘candy’ is almost indistinguishable from regular drug store candy.  Your kids may be getting high right before your eyes, if you are not paying close attention. This illegal operation makes juveniles and anyone who consumes these products susceptible to random levels of drug toxicity,” said Monmouth County Chief of Detectives John G. McCabe.

Also seized, were machines and paraphernalia used to repackage and re-purpose the legitimate candies as marijuana-related edible products. The investigation did not reveal use of the airport to transport any of the illegal drugs to other areas inside or outside of New Jersey.

Seized during the investigation were 1,200 THC-infused Sour Patch Watermelon candy packages labeled, “Stoner Patch” edibles; 6,250 “Baked Burgerz” edibles; 3,111 TCH-infused “Nerd Ropes,” individually repackaged in red, pink, yellow and blue wrappers.  Also seized were 1,151 Tic Tac-type containers without labels; numerous boxes and trays of Nerd Ropes in various stages of the infusion process; and 6,542 THC vape cartridges in a variety of 16 different flavors.

 “The operation used their own wrappers and labels to repackage the drug-infused candy. There were no sanitary measures taken, no safety apparatus, and there were certainly were no standards in place to ensure the product was not contaminated. Consumers of these products had no way of knowing exactly what they were ingesting,” said Middletown Township Police Chief Craig Weber, President of the Monmouth County Chiefs Association.

A total of $10,151,711 in assets, $1,483,859 in cash, and 21 high-end exotic vehicles, including cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Mercedes Benz, with an estimated total value of approximately $2,783,445, were also seized as part of the criminal investigation.

Numerous agencies assisted in this investigation.  Prosecutor Gramiccioni commended all the agencies whose combined cooperation and partnership complimented the successful completion of Operation On The Ropes:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force of New York and New Jersey, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection of the Port of New York and Newark International Airport, U.S. Postal Inspection Service;

New Jersey State Police, New Jersey State Police – Regional Operations & Intelligence Center (ROIC), New Jersey Department of Treasury, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of the New York District Attorney – Richmond County, the Office of New York District Attorney’s Office – Rockland County, and the 123 Precinct of the New York City Police Department;

Aberdeen Police Department, Asbury Park Police Department, Belmar Police Department, Brick Township Police Department, Colts Neck Police Department, Eatontown Police Department, Elmwood Park Police Department, Freehold Borough Police Department, Freehold Township Police Department, Howell Township Police Department, Jackson Township Police Department, Keansburg Police Department, Keyport Police Department, Lodi Police Department, Long Branch Police Department, Manalapan Township Police Department, Marlboro Township Police Department, Middletown Township Police Department, Old Bridge Police Department, Neptune City Police Department, Neptune Township Police Department, Spring Valley (New York) Police Department, Tinton Falls Police Department, and Wall Township Police Department.

Arrested and charged in Operation On The Ropes:

Dylon J. Addvensky, 27, of Freehold Borough, first degree Leader of a Narcotics Trafficking Network, second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Knowingly Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 50 Grams.

Eric L. Karlewicz, a/k/a Anthony Mazza 40, of Colts Neck, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana in Excess of 50 grams.

Nicco C. Romanowski, 27, of Freehold Township, second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana in Excess of 50 grams.

Anthony Dalessandro, 30, of Los Angeles, California, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish with Intent to Distribute, first degree Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 50 Grams. D’Alessandro remains at-large and is considered a fugitive from justice.

Ariel Baez, 45, of Lodi, New Jersey, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana in Excess of 50 grams.

Mathew R. Caracappa, 24, of Freehold Township, second degree Conspiracy, first degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Knowingly Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana and/or Hashish, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 50 Grams.

Lawrence A. Cella, 28, of Jackson Township, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, first degree Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana and hashish, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish.

Richard C. Chamas, 43, of Jackson Township, is charged with a disorderly persons offense of Obstruction of the lawful arrest of Paul G. Hobbs, who is listed below.

Lee D’Avanzo, 52, of Staten Island, New York, is charged with fourth degree Conspiracy to Possess Marijuana, fourth degree Possession of Marijuana in Excess of 50 grams.

Nicholas A. D’Ambrosio, 28, of Manalapan, third degree Possession of Cocaine and a disorderly persons offenses of Possession of Marijuana Under 50 grams.

Alfonse D’Ambrosio, 26, of Howell Township, is charged with third degree possession of Anabolic Steroids, fourth degree Resisting Arrest, fourth degree Possession of Examestane without a Prescription,

Angelynn J. Fecso, of Colts Neck, second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana in Excess of 25 pounds, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana in Excess of 50 grams.

Matthew V. Filosa, 28, of Freehold Borough, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana and/or Hashish fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 50 grams.

Paul G. Hobbs, 27, of Jackson Township, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana and/or Hashish fourth degree Possession of Marijuana in Excess of 50 grams.

Ryan D. Hult, 39, of Riverdale in Morris County, New Jersey, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 50 grams.

Jason M. Lambros, 21, of Point Pleasant Beach, is charged with disorderly persons offenses of Possession of Marijuana Under 50 grams and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

Joseph A. Mari, 28, of Voorhees Township in Camden County, New Jersey, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, second degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and Hashish.

Gianna P. Mazzone, 23, of Egg Harbor Township, is charged with third degree Possession of Cocaine and a disorderly persons offenses of Possession of Marijuana under 50 grams.

John T. Page, 25, of the Mickleton section of Greenwich Township in Gloucester County, New Jersey, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, first degree Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana and hashish, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and Hashish.

Hannah R. Olstein, 25, Freehold Township, is charged with fourth degree Possession of Marijuana Under 50 grams and a disorderly persons offense of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

Daniel J. Riley, 25, of Brick Township, second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 25 pounds, first degree Maintaining and Operating a Facility for the Production of Marijuana, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and/or Hashish in Excess of 50 grams

Kevin M. Shields, 31 of Jackson Township, is charged with second degree Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, first degree Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana and Hashish, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and Hashish.

Alexa L. Stimpfel, 27, of Freehold Borough, is charged with fourth degree Possession of Marijuana Under 50 grams.

Matthew C. Tracy, 27, of Jackson Township, is charged with fourth degree Conspiracy to Possess Marijuana and Hashish, and fourth degree Possession of Marijuana and Hashish.

There is an ongoing investigation into the financial activities of the criminal enterprise. Anyone with information about the activities of any of the defendants listed above or any of the following companies Empire Pain Center, Empire Power and Gas Holdings, Global Empire International Holdings, Supreme Lead Generations, Platinum Communication Services, Platinum Funding Associates, Jenza Properties, LLC, Dynasty Property Holdings are urged to contact Captain Maria Reverendo of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, at 1-800-533-7443.  

Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about a crime can contact Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line by calling 1-800-671-4400; can text “MONMOUTH” plus their tip to 274637; or, they can email a tip via the website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.

Anyone convicted of a first degree crime faces a sentence of 10 to 20 years in a New Jersey state prison.  Anyone convicted of a second degree crime faces a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison.  If convicted of a third degree crime, each defendant faces three to five years in state prison. If convicted of a fourth degree crime, each defendant faces up to 18 months in state prison.

The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Paul Alexander and Emily Cartmell.

Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.