Twelve members and associates of the narcotics ring were indicted in “Operation Skin Deep”
TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a man was sentenced to prison today as one of the top members of a drug ring that marketed cocaine and designer drugs online and distributed them via the mail. He was charged along with 11 other alleged ring members and associates in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice called “Operation Skin Deep.” Three additional men were indicted separately for trafficking cocaine as a result of the investigation.
Aldo T. Lapaix, 31, of Absecon, N.J., was sentenced today to 10 years in state prison, including 8 ½ years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 28, 2017 to first-degree charges of racketeering and distribution of cocaine. Lapaix was one of three “partners” who ran the drug ring. He helped procure drugs for the ring to sell and handled the packaging and shipping of drugs.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Barile prosecuted Lapaix and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.
Operation Skin Deep began when a detective of the Division of Criminal Justice identified individuals trafficking cocaine while monitoring the activities of white supremacist groups in Atlantic City. The investigation into cocaine sales in Atlantic City ultimately exposed a network that was using the internet to arrange mail-order sales of cocaine and designer drugs, including ethylone, which is known as “M” and is similar to ecstasy. First-degree charges of racketeering and distribution of cocaine are pending against the two alleged partners of Lapaix: the alleged leader of the ring, Christopher Castelluzzo, 33, of Lake Hopatcong, N.J., and alleged managing partner Luke A. Atwell, 36, of Hamilton (Mercer County), N.J. Castelluzo also faces a first-degree charge of leader of a narcotics trafficking network.
“Aggressively prosecuting narcotics traffickers is a critical component in our multi-faceted efforts to fight the epidemic of drug addiction in New Jersey,” said Attorney General Grewal. “These drug dealers sought to evade law enforcement and increase their profits by adopting an internet-age business model, but we uncovered their crimes and are sending them to prison for lengthy terms.”
“What began as an operation targeting a few drug dealers in Atlantic City became a statewide investigation that shut down a very lucrative narcotics marketing scheme,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “The extent of their illicit profits was illustrated by the nearly $1.5 million in cash seized by our detectives.”
Lapaix, Castelluzzo and Atwell were indicted on March 3, 2016 along with nine other men, including seven other alleged ring members and two alleged associates. Four of those ring members have pleaded guilty and received or face prison sentences ranging from five to seven years.
Another man charged in the indictment, Jose Ruvalcaba, 34, of Oxnard, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He is a tractor-trailer driver who was arrested by detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice in a parking lot off Union Turnpike in North Bergen, N.J., along with alleged ring member Shazad Khan, 34, of North Bergen. Detectives found approximately $1.2 million in cash in the trunk of Khan’s Infiniti, wrapped in bundles with duct tape. It was one of the largest cash seizures in New Jersey law enforcement history. Khan allegedly met Ruvalcaba so that Ruvalcaba could transport the cash as payment for cocaine.
Atwell allegedly was responsible for marketing the enterprise’s drugs on the internet, tracking and managing the gross receipts and expenses, dealing with customers, and keeping an inventory of the remaining drugs. As previously stated, Lapaix helped procure drugs for the ring to sell and handled the packaging and shipping of drugs. Atwell allegedly would send computer files to Lapaix containing lists of orders, including screen-names of customers, their addresses, and the amount and type of narcotics that each customer ordered. When Lapaix received the files, he and two men who worked under him would weigh out the drugs, package them, create tracking information, and mail each of the orders. Atwell allegedly would ensure all orders were properly filled. Lapaix obtained the supplies for packaging the orders and Atwell reimbursed him. Lapaix also engaged in street-level narcotics sales.
Search warrants executed at various locations yielded approximately a quarter of a million dollars in cash, diamond jewelry, gold bars, another quarter kilogram of cocaine, numerous rounds of ammunition, firearm silencers, cocaine testing, cutting and packaging materials, and related equipment.
Deputy Attorney General Barile presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Jill Mayer, Deputy Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, and Deputy Bureau Chief Andrew Johns. Former Deputy Attorney General Alyssa Schwab and Analyst Bethany Schussler assisted in the investigation for the Specialized Crimes Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller and Analyst Debra Maiorano handled the civil forfeiture action.
The lead detectives for the Division of Criminal Justice were Detective Scott Caponi of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau and Detective Brian Christensen of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. They were assisted by Sgt. Mike Rasar and worked under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Detectives Christopher Donohue and Lt. Lisa Cawley. They received extensive assistance from detectives of the Gangs & Organized Crime and Specialized Crimes Bureaus, North, South, and Central Units. The New Jersey State Police Intelligence Section also provided valuable assistance. Other partners that were critical to the success of the investigation were the Atlantic City Task Force, Bayonne Police Department, Galloway Police Department, North Bergen Police Department, New York City Police Department, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and New Jersey National Guard.
Defense Attorney: Andrew M. Butchko, Esq., Somers Point, N.J.