TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced that the Division of Criminal Justice obtained a first-degree racketeering indictment charging 12 men in connection with a drug ring that marketed cocaine and designer drugs online and distributed them via the mail. They were charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice called “Operation Skin Deep,” which also led to a second indictment charging three men with selling cocaine in Atlantic City.
Operation Skin Deep began as an undercover investigation into cocaine sales in Atlantic City, but ultimately exposed an alleged narcotics 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. Investigators also allegedly uncovered a conspiracy by the alleged leader of that ring, Christopher Castelluzzo, and three other members of the enterprise to murder a former associate and his bodyguard.
“Our racketeering indictment alleges that this ring of criminals had a cyber-age approach to distributing multiple kilograms of cocaine as well as designer drugs,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “However, we allege that they were typical drug dealers in their willingness to resort to violence, as evidenced by the murder conspiracy we charged. Our seizure of $1.2 million from the trunk of a ring member – one of the largest cash seizures in state history – speaks to the huge illicit profits these drug traffickers were reaping.”
“What began as an operation targeting several drug dealers in Atlantic City became a far-reaching investigation that extended into northern New Jersey and dismantled an online mail-order drug ring that was turning major profits,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By following every lead, we dismantled this criminal enterprise and built a first-degree racketeering case.”
The indictments were obtained on Thursday, March 3, by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. They were not announced until today because detectives are seeking several defendants who remain fugitives. The first indictment charges the following 10 men with first-degree racketeering. The first three men allegedly formed a partnership to distribute cocaine and designer drugs through mail-order Internet sales. The other men are alleged associates who took part in the criminal enterprise.
- Christopher C. Castelluzzo, 31, of Lake Hopatcong, N.J., who is charged with the first-degree crime of leader of a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a sentence of life in state prison, including 25 years of parole ineligibility;
- Luke A. Atwell, 34, of Hamilton (Mercer County), N.J., who allegedly acted as a managerial partner for the ring; and
- Aldo T. Lapaix, 28, of Absecon, N.J., who allegedly helped procure drugs for the ring to sell and handled the packaging and shipping of drugs.
- Eric Rodriguez, 45, of Cliffside Park, N.J., who allegedly made bulk purchases of cocaine with Castelluzzo.
- Henry Bracy, 46, of New York, N.Y.,
- Shazad Khan, 32, of North Bergen, N.J.,
- Jose A. Garcia-Hernandez, 51, of Absecon, N.J.,
- Mervin Menier, 43, of Union City, N.J.,
- Christian Collado, 27, of Pleasantville, N.J., and
- “Dre,” an unidentified male.
Castelluzzo, Atwell, Rodriguez and Bracy are charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly plotting to murder two men – a former associate and his bodyguard – in a dispute over drugs and drug proceeds. The men allegedly took a number of steps in preparation to kill the targeted victims, but the murders were never carried out. The first-degree charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder each carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, 85 percent of which must be served without possibility of parole. In addition, Castelluzzo, Atwell, Lapaix, Menier, Collado and “Dre” are charged with first-degree distribution of cocaine or possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
The indictment also charges the following two defendants:
- Jose Ruvalcaba, 28, of Oxnard, Calif., and
- Jamaal Johnson, 30, of Baltimore, Md.
Ruvalcaba is a tractor-trailer driver who was arrested with Khan by detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice in a parking lot off Union Turnpike in North Bergen on April 24, 2015. Detectives found approximately $1.2 million in cash in the trunk of Kahn’s Infiniti, wrapped in bundles with duct tape. That seizure is among the largest cash seizures in New Jersey law enforcement history. Kahn allegedly met Ruvalcaba at the location so that Ruvalcaba could transport the cash in his tractor-trailer as payment for cocaine. Khan and Ruvalcaba are charged in the indictment with first-degree money laundering and first-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Johnson is charged with second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine, along with 10 of the other defendants – all except Ruvalcaba. In addition, Johnson is charged with second-degree eluding for allegedly fleeing on April 17, 2015, when detectives attempted to stop his car after he allegedly purchased cocaine from Castelluzzo at a nightclub in Passaic, the Omni Lounge, which is owned by Castelluzzo and Atwell. The Omni Lounge allegedly was used as a headquarters for the drug ring. The detectives called off their pursuit of Johnson, but Castelluzzo was arrested at that time at the Omni Lounge. A search warrant was executed for the club, resulting in the seizure of two kilograms of cocaine and nearly 400 grams of the designer drug ethylone.
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 allegedly 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. It is alleged that, when Lapaix received the files, he and/or his workers, Collado and “Dre,” 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.
It is alleged that Lapaix obtained the necessary supplies for packaging the orders and Atwell reimbursed Lapaix for the cost of the supplies. It is alleged that Lapaix and Castelluzzo, who also allegedly engaged in street-level narcotics sales, used several cocaine suppliers, including Garcia-Hernandez, Khan and Menier.
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.
The second indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau charges the following three men with distributing cocaine in Atlantic City:
- Thomas Bullock, 62, of Millville, N.J., is charged with first-degree distribution of cocaine and second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine;
- Thomas White, 31, of Galloway, N.J., is charged with first-degree distribution of cocaine and second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine; and
- Benjamin DiPilla, 28, of Ocean City, N.J., is charged with second-degree distribution of cocaine and second-degree conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
DiPilla allegedly was involved in the sale of more than half an ounce of cocaine to an undercover detective on Nov. 1, 2013 at a nightclub in Atlantic City. It is alleged that Bullock and White were involved in making four separate sales of cocaine to the undercover detective at the same nightclub between July 24 and Sept. 17, 2014, involving a total quantity of over 8 ounces of cocaine.
Operation Skin Deep began when a detective identified individuals distributing cocaine while monitoring the activities of white supremacist groups in Atlantic City. After allegedly making the undercover purchases from Bullock, White and DiPilla, detectives expanded the investigation to identify individuals who were supplying cocaine to those defendants. Those efforts led to Lapaix and the investigation of the defendants charged in the racketeering indictment.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Barile presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Andrew Johns, Deputy Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. 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 are handling 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 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.
The indictments were handed up to Superior Court Judge Robert C. Billmeier in Mercer County, who assigned them to Atlantic County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment. The indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Copies of the indictments are posted with this release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
The charge of leader of a narcotics trafficking network carries a sentence of life in prison, including 25 years of parole ineligibility, and a criminal fine of up to $750,000. First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000, or up to $500,000 for the drug charges. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Money laundering carries an enhanced fine of up to $500,000, and an additional anti-money laundering penalty of $500,000 for first-degree offenses and $75,000 for third-degree offenses. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.