Bergen prosecutor: ‘Whole new approach’ to fighting drugs yields sellers, buyers

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A staggering 28 heroin overdose deaths in Bergen County last year left County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli no choice but to change gears and go after both dealers and users — within and outside the county.

Photo Credit: Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Bergen County Prosecutor's Office

“It’s a whole new approach to drug enforcement,” Molinelli said during a news conference this afternoon in Hackensack, during which he released the names of 90 arrested users — in addition to nearly two dozen people accused of operating heroin trafficking networks that stretched from Bergen to Mercer and Passaic counties.

He also posted their mugshots or driver’s license photos for media to distribute.

“I am trying to raise awareness of just how bad this is,” the prosecutor said. “We’re never going to arrest our way out of the narcotics issue in this world, so we have to find a better way.”

CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported the arrests last night: Multi-agency heroin raid nets 113 arrests, 50,000 bags, $110,000 cash

Molinelli said he came up with the strategy after consulting with Jennifer Swartz, the Bergen County deputy medical examiner, in response to 28 overdose deaths in the county last year — which he said was a more than 100% increase over the previous year.

The reason?

Bergen County Prosecutor Chief of Detectives Steve Cuccinello (STORY/PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

Heroin is cheaper than ever, he said, and is being combined with alcohol and drugs such as Oxycontin. It’s causing overdoses, many of which end in death.

Most of the users drive into Paterson from suburban towns in that area, in Bergen and in Rockland, arrest records show.

Meanwhile, all but a few of the alleged distributors are from Paterson.

As a result, Molinelli gathered a host of law enforcement agencies from several towns that have been affected by drug-related crime, from burglaries, thefts and robberies to gang violence. These became “the backbone of a multi-jurisdictional task force” led by Chief of Detective Steve Cuccinello, Molinelli said (SEE BELOW).

“There are so many dynamics at play,” said Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdez, who attended the news conference.

“We want to make sure that we’re coordinated,” Valdez said. “Today it was heroin, but we recently did an enforcement that was prescription drug abuse.”

INFO about those arrested on heroin distribution charges, with photos, can be found by CLICKING HERE: Distribution Arrest Matrix

INFO on those charged with buying and/or possessing heroin can be found by CLICKING HERE: Interdiction Arrest Matrix

The two-pronged approach included the arrests of several people identified as heroin-distribution ringleaders — most of whom were being held on $750,000 bail each following a series of arrests over the past week.

Investigators also seized more than 1,000 bricks of heroin that, if sold in individual bags, could fetch anywhere from $250,000 to $1.25 million dollars depending on how it is cut and distributed.

They also confiscated $110,000 in alleged drug proceeds that the prosecutor’s office will seek a judge’s order to keep for law enforcement uses in Bergen County.

The second part of Molinelli’s initiative involved rounding up buyers following “buy and bust” operations in March and April.

It didn’t stop there, though: Authorities called in the parents of adult teens and juveniles who were arrested “to make them aware of what was going on,” Molinelli said.

Just about all of the defendants already have had court appearances in Hackensack.

Molinelli said that Bergen is one of the first counties to use the two-pronged drug-busting approach, which he warned will only intensify in the coming months.

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

Participating agencies included:

  •     The Passaic County and Mercer County prosecutors’ offices, and the Paterson police department;
  •     From Bergen: Police from Hackensack, Paramus, Glen Rock, Ramsey, Allendale, Saddle Brook, Elmwood Park, Fair Lawn and Upper Saddle River;
  •     Also from Passaic County: Police from Wayne, Totowa, Woodland Park, Bloomingdale, West Milford, Ringwood, Clifton, Little Falls and Pequannock

    TOP: Heroin distribution defendants
    BOTTOM: Heroin possession defendants
    COURTESY: Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office

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