Authorities smashed a drug ring that they said flooded the black market in North Jersey, the Shore and Rockland County with THC-laced Sour Patch candies and other sweets loved by kids.
Various federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies combined to bring charges against two dozen people while seizing one of the largest amounts ever of illegally-produced THC-infused products in the New York-New Jersey area, authorities announced Tuesday.
Seized during the year-long “Operation On the Ropes” investigation were:
- 1,200 THC-infused “Sour Patch Watermelon” candy packages;
- 6,250 “Baked Burgerz” edibles;
- 3,111 TCH-infused “Nerd Ropes”;
- 6,542 THC vape cartridges in various flavors;
- 110 pounds of pot;
- $1,483,859 in cash;
- 21 high-end exotic vehicles – by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Mercedes Benz, among others – worth an estimated $2,783,445 combined;
- $10,151,711 worth of other assets.
The confiscated drugs had a street value of nearly $2 million, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said.
Gramiccioni’s Narcotics and Criminal Enterprise Unit targeted the large-scale marijuana and THC distribution network, which he said operated throughout Monmouth, Ocean, and Bergen counties as well as in Rockland and on Staten Island.
Among those participating in the investigation and takedown were the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the Rockland County district attorney’s office, Port Authority police, the NYPD and police from Elmwood Park, Lodi and Spring Valley (see complete list below).
“Your kids may be getting high right before your eyes if you are not paying close attention,” Monmouth County Chief of Detectives John G. McCabe said. “The packaging on this THC laced ‘candy’ is almost indistinguishable from regular drug store candy.”
The ring used a warehouse in Manalapan and a hangar at Monmouth Executive Airport in Wall to secretly produce and store the drugs, Gramiccioni said.
Members “used regular candy to further their scheme, buying hundreds of boxes of product from wholesalers before transporting it to [the] processing facility,” he said.
There, they “would unwrap the individual pieces of candy, lay it out on trays and then spray the candy with a concentrated formula of THC distillate,” Gramiccioni said.
“Once the THC dried on the candy, it was repackaged as an illegal marijuana edibles product for distribution across New Jersey,” the prosecutor said.
Also seized were machines and paraphernalia used to repackage and repurpose the legitimate candies as marijuana-related edible products, he said.
Two North Jersey residents were among 23 people arrested and released.
Ariel Baez, 45, of Lodi, and Ryan D. Hult, 39, of Riverdale (formerly of Hillsdale) were both charged with possession with the intent to distribute more than 25 pounds of marijuana, Gramiccioni said. Hult also was charged with conspiracy, he said.
A Los Angeles, California man – identified as 30-year-old Anthony Dalessandro -- remained at large and was considered a fugitive, the prosecutor said.
Meanwhile, an investigation was continuing into what Gramiccioni said are the “financial activities of the criminal enterprise.”
He asked that citizens call Capt. Maria Reverendo of his office (1-800-533-7443) with information about the activities of any of the individual defendants or several 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.
Callers can remain anonymous, the prosecutor said.
Participating in “Operation on the Ropes” were:
- 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:
- Office of the New York District Attorney – Richmond County;
- Office of New York District Attorney’s Office – Rockland County;
- 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;
- Wall Township Police Department.
ALSO SEE: The mastermind of an ATM skimming ring that targeted customers at banks in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts had his federal prison sentence extended to more than 10 years on Tuesday.
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