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Prosecutor: Garfield Pet Shop Drug Ring Had 56+ Pounds Of Pot, Weapons

Gutierrez, Santos, Chica, Vega, Giordano
Gutierrez, Santos, Chica, Vega, Giordano Photo Credit: MUGSHOTS: Courtesy BERGEN PROSECUTOR

Detectives found 56 pounds of pot, five rifles and two shotguns at a Garfield pet grooming shop while arresting five accused members of a drug-dealing operation during a series of raids.

They also found an assault weapon, a revolver, ammunition and three high-capacity ammo magazines at the Passaic home of one of the alleged crew members, Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo said Thursday.

Calo’s detectives arrested three people connected to Happy Pet Tails on River Drive, including a Garfield couple, 31-year-old Jennifer M. Santos and Carlos M. Gutierrez, 30, following an investigation that Calo said began with a tip last November that Gutierrez was a dealer.

He and Santos were charged with several drug and weapons counts, as well as with child endangerment, the prosecutor said.

Also charged was Happy Pet Tails employee Michael Giordano, 33, of Clifton.

The weapons found in the shop had all been reported stolen from a Saddle Brook home in 2016, Calo said.

In addition to the 56 pounds of pot also found there, authorities seized an additional pound of marijuana, along with drug-packaging materials and ammunition from Gutierrez and Santos’s Cambridge Avenue apartment, he said.

Another defendant, Alberto C. Chica, 34, of Garfield, was arrested as authorities executed a search warrant at Prestige Car Wash & Auto Detail on Avenue E in Lodi, Calo said.

Found in his car was a police-style collapsible baton and marijuana, the prosecutor said.

A search of the Tennyson Place home of the fifth suspect, 38-year-old ex-con Michael Vega of Passaic, turned up a SIG Sauer M400 assault firearm, a .357 Ruger revolver, ammunition, and three high-capacity ammunition magazines, Calo said.

“A total of six vehicles were searched for contraband and were seized pending forfeiture proceedings,” the prosecutor said.

Some of the vehicles contained aftermarket hidden compartments for hiding drugs and cash, he said.

Judges ordered Santos, Chica and Giordano released under New Jersey’s 2017 bail reform law.

Vega, meanwhile, remained held in the Bergen County Jail on charges of having an assault weapon, along with large-capacity ammo, and with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Gutierrez also was held – in large part because of a federal ICE detainer and arrest warrant out of Queens.

Calo thanked police from Garfield, Hackensack, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Passaic, and Saddle Brook, along with the Bergen County Regional SWAT Team, Passaic County SWAT Team and Bergen County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in the case. 

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