TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that guilty pleas were taken on Feb. 23 from two suppliers for a major drug ring that trafficked heroin from Paterson into Atlantic and Ocean counties. The ring was dismantled in 2015 through an investigation by the Atlantic City Task Force.

The following men each pleaded guilty on Feb. 23 to possession of heroin with intent to distribute before Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury, Jr., in Atlantic County. The state will recommend that each man be sentenced to 10 years in state prison:

  • Richard Michilena, 26, of Elmwood Park, N.J., and
  • Bolivar Delacruz, 39, of Lodi, N.J.

The defendants were among 19 people arrested in April 2015 as the result of an eight-month investigation by the Atlantic City Task Force (ACTF) which revealed that the drug network was distributing approximately 30,000 doses of heroin per month in Atlantic and Ocean counties, where heroin and prescription pain pills have fueled an epidemic of opiate addiction and overdoses, including many fatal overdoses. The ACTF is led by the Attorney General’s Office and includes the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey State Police, Atlantic City Police Department, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, Pleasantville Police Department, and New Jersey State Parole Board. This operation also involved the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and other federal, state, county and local law enforcement partners, as outlined below.

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Deputy Attorneys General James Ruberton and Martin Steiner took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. Sentencing for the two men is scheduled for June 23.

“By supplying large quantities of heroin for distribution in two of the counties hardest hit by the opiate epidemic, these two men were profiting from addiction and death” said Attorney General Porrino. “Thanks to the tremendous work of the Atlantic City Task Force and its many law enforcement partners, they now face lengthy prison sentences.”

“Through this investigation, we cut off a major pipeline of heroin flowing from the distribution hub of Paterson to Atlantic City,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Strategic investigations such as this one save lives in two ways: by disrupting the supply of deadly heroin and by reducing the violence inevitably associated with street-level drug dealing.”

“Nothing less than a multi-jurisdictional partnership was needed to dismantle this drug dealing network that operated in various counties throughout the state,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “There is no doubt that the actions of these drug dealers contributed to the downward spiral of those who are plagued by heroin addiction. I commend all of the law enforcement agencies that worked together to shut down this major flow of drugs into our communities.”

During the investigation, the task force seized 16,000 doses or “bags” of heroin and over $52,000 in cash. Ring members allegedly sold heroin cut with the highly potent and deadly opiate fentanyl and employed a juvenile to sell heroin. The investigation revealed that ring members conducted heroin transactions in front of young children, and took public assistance subsidies in exchange for heroin.

Michilena and Delacruz were arrested on April 18, 2015, at 33rd Street and 13th Avenue in Paterson, where they met two other defendants for a heroin sale. The other defendants, Helene Gonzalez, 39, of Pleasantville, and Tarik Hopkins, 35, of Galloway, were obtaining additional heroin for distribution in Atlantic and Ocean counties. Task force members had Gonzalez and Hopkins under surveillance and converged to make arrests after the pair met with Michilena and Delacruz. During the arrests, detectives seized a purse containing $23,885 in cash that Gonzalez and Hopkins gave to Delacruz and Michilena to purchase the heroin. Investigators also seized 10,000 single-dose wax paper folds or “bags” of heroin, which were packaged in 200 bundles of 50 known as “bricks.” The heroin was found in a duffel bag in the back seat of the BMW that Michilena drove. Gonzalez and Hopkins are pending adjudication.

The investigation was conducted by the Atlantic City Task Force, including law enforcement officers from the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, the Pleasantville Police Department, and the State Parole Board.

Deputy Attorney General Ruberton and Assistant Prosecutor Erik Bergman of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office were the prosecutors assigned to the investigation. Detective Caryn Campanelli of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office was the lead detective.

The New Jersey State Police units that participated include the Casino Gaming Bureau’s Special Investigation Unit and Financial Crimes Squad, Troop “A” Field Operations, TEAMS South, Central, and North, K-9 South and Central, Gangs & Organized Crime North, Trafficking North and the Regional Operations & Intelligence Center (ROIC).

The following additional law enforcement partners with which the ACTF has collaborative relationships assisted in this investigation:

  • Atlantic County Justice Facility
  • Atlantic County Probation Division
  • Brigantine Beach Police Department
  • Hamilton Township Police Department
  • Egg Harbor Township Police Department
  • Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department
  • Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office
  • New Jersey Air National Guard
  • United States Marshals Service
  • ICE Homeland Security Investigations
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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