The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced today the arrest of individuals involved in a heroin ring in Paterson. Attorney General Jeff Chiesa sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the arrests and why it’s important for his office to investigate drug distributors and prosecute them.
Chiesa explained that the arrested individuals are allegedly involved in a large-scale heroin ring operating in Paterson, which was supplying the drug to dealers who then distributed it in the northern New Jersey area as well as other states. “This was a large-scale operation,” he said. “We’ve gone kind of to the top of it and eliminate the supply that gets it out to the street dealers and the people that want to sell it.”
Heroin rings are monitored by Chiesa’s office, he said, because the drug is “such an awful, disruptive, addictive substance.” He said oftentimes people with prescription drug addiction turn to heroin because it’s a cheaper, more available alternative that gives a similar short-term high. “Obviously it’s incredibly addictive and it has a catastrophic impact to the community that it’s in because of the gun violence that follows it and it just creates a terrible environment for anybody to live in that live in those communities,” he said.
Chiesa said the investigation into the Paterson ring has been going on for six months and has been a collaboration between the Division of Criminal Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department and the State Police. While Chiesa is unsure how long the Paterson ring has been in operation, he said it was very high volume.
“We’ve recovered three kilos of heroin and $255,000 in cash. So we think about the amount of volume that they were doing, the amount of money that they were making,” Chiesa said. “This was a very sophisticated, very intrenched operation.”
While Chiesa declined to say how officials first became aware of the alleged heroin ring, he said drug activity can be found out through a variety of measures, including unusual behavior. He said in one past case, officials saw people coming in and out of a drug mill, which is a residence where people package drugs for sale, with aprons and surgical masks. A steady flow of people going in and out of a residence at odd hours is another red flag, he said.
“The investigators that do these cases — and they’re the ones that deserve all the credit — they’re experts. They develop informants and they develop leads and they develop all kinds of things,” Chiesa said. “But there are cases in my own experience, I had corruption cases develop from very small drug cases. So it’s hard to tell where your cases are going to come from.”
Drug abuse, including that of heroin, can be a problem for anyone, Chiesa said. “Any human being can be impacted by the improper use of prescription drugs because they’re so addictive, which is why we’ve been so aggressive on that front,” he said. “So it’s urban communities and certainly the heroin permeates into suburban communities because the point of prescription drug abuse turning to heroin abuse.”
Because prescription drug abuse and heroin use are linked, Chiesa said his office tries to educate people on prescription drug abuse and be on the lookout for heroin mills and heroin distribution.
Chiesa said he can’t guarantee that another group won’t enter Paterson and put together a heroin ring, but he said the stiff penalties should act as a deterrent. “The leader of this network, Segundo Garcia, is facing life in prison, 25 years of no parole, as one of his counts. So this is serious. The other people are facing first and second degree charges. These are people who are going to go to jail for a very long period of time,” he said. “That’s the other message people need to understand.”
The penalties are harsh to deter drug activity, according to Chiesa. “We understand there’s a quick buck to be made with some of this stuff but the penalties are severe and we have to be aggressive with the way we go after these cases and the way we prosecute them,” he said. “And thanks to the work that went on this case, we’ll be able to do that.”