The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force (NTF) was organized in October 1987, pursuant to the Attorney General’s Statewide Narcotics Action Plan (SNAP) for Narcotics Enforcement. In March 2008, the Narcotics Task Force’s name was officially changed to the Gangs, Guns and Narcotics Task Force (GGNTF), pursuant to New Jersey’s Safe Streets – Safe Neighborhoods Initiative. The GGNTF is responsible for investigations leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who violate the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of New Jersey.
Beginning in 2014, Burlington County experienced the initial wave of the Opioid epidemic that has devastated much of the United States over the past five years. The consumption of opioids has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Burlington County overdose fatalities. From 2014 through 2018, Burlington County lost 488 people from drug overdose. Broken down by year, the overdose deaths are reflected as follows: 75 in 2014; 87 in 2015; 96 in 2016; 144 in 2017 and 161 in 2018. These statistics show significant annual percentage increases of 16%, 10%, 50%, and 12% in the number of overdose deaths in Burlington County. The death toll from overdoses increased each year despite the lifesaving deployment of naloxone by EMS and Law Enforcement to assist suspected opioid overdose victims. Burlington County EMS and Law Enforcement deployed naloxone 556 times in 2015; 653 times in 2016; 914 times in 2017 and 1025 times in 2018. Deployments increased annually 17% from 2015-2016, 40% from 2016-2017 and 12% from 2017-2018.
In recognition of the deadly impact of the opioid crisis specifically, and narcotics trafficking in general, in Burlington County, Prosecutor Scott Coffina and the BCPO Executive staff assessed the allocation of personnel and the needs of the Office. The Office identified operation needs and deployed personnel to the GGNTF to address those needs. This reallocation of personnel resulted in the following staffing changes at the GGNTF: the unit was relocated to a new location and is housed in a 6,000-square foot facility that has a training class room, a large meeting room where we host bi-monthly Burlington County GGNTF Liaison meetings, a wiretap room and a conference room. The Unit personnel increased from one sergeant and five detectives to two sergeants and nine detectives coming under the command of a lieutenant and a captain.
Additionally, the Task Force Officer (TFO) program, which recruits municipal police officers to join the GGNTF and engage in GGNTF operations on a temporary basis, was expanded from one TFO to three TFOs during 2018. While assigned to the GGNTF, a TFO receives training in all aspects of narcotics investigations. They then return to their respective agencies and use their training and acquired knowledge to coordinate their own gang, gun or narcotics investigations. In 2018, the Burlington Township Police Department, the Pemberton Township Police Department, the Burlington City Police Department and the Mount Laurel Township Police Department participated in the TFO Program.
The Unit supervisor is responsible for the daily functions of the Unit, and with the assistance of a second assistant prosecutor, provides legal services to all Burlington County municipal police agencies and the New Jersey State Police.
With the addition of personnel, the GGNTF focused our investigative efforts on the needs of the Burlington County community; specifically by targeting those deemed to be “High Value Targets” such as known violent offenders engaged in drug and or gun trafficking/violence, those engaged in the distribution of heroin/opioids, and criminal organizations engaged in violence and or drug trafficking. We are now better able to simultaneously target multiple offenders conducting criminal activity in Burlington County. The GGNTF is making better use of intelligence-led policing to identify, target and intercept the individuals responsible for the distribution of narcotics and those responsible for gun violence. We have prioritized the pursuit of drug-induced death investigations and strict liability prosecutions. The GGNTF screens every overdose death with the objective of pursuing an investigation into the person(s) responsible for providing overdose death victims with the lethal dosage of drugs.
The GGNTF has also attempted multiple lifesaving outreach projects targeting the opioid user community. In November 2018, the BCPO launched “Operation Safe Overnight” in which we partnered with Virtua and some local police departments to train hotel/motel staff about the opioid epidemic, the impact it has had in Burlington County and the dangers it presents to their staff. We demonstrated the deployment of Naloxone and provided a free naloxone kit to all the properties that attended. We ultimately hope to make naloxone as prevalent as AEDs at Burlington County hotels/motels.
We also launched an initiative where GGNTF “surface” detectives reached out to every surviving naloxone recipient to steer them into treatment and to cultivate actionable intelligence related to street level opioid distribution.
The GGNTF now also hosts bi-monthly Burlington County GGNTF Liaison meetings for Burlington County law enforcement officers responsible for the investigation of crimes related to gangs, guns and narcotics investigations. We offer training and topical speakers at these meetings where we also discuss crime trends in Burlington County and have a round-robin discussion of specific trends and needs in each Burlington County jurisdiction. These meetings foster an atmosphere of cooperation amongst the various municipal, state and federal agencies that regularly attend.
SIGNIFICANT CASES DURING 2018
STATE v. GREGORY CARLTON
In a cooperative investigation with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and the Evesham Township Police Department (ETPD), BCPO GGNTF detectives effectively dismantled a “ghost gun,” or homemade untraceable firearm operation.
Atlantic County law enforcement initially discovered that defendant Gregory Carlton was making and selling illegal untraceable guns from his home in Evesham Township, New Jersey to criminals unable to purchase guns through lawful means. Ghost guns present a particularly difficult and dangerous challenge to law enforcement because they do not have serial numbers and, unlike legally manufactured firearms, they are not entered into the NIBIN system at the time of their manufacture.
Atlantic County law enforcement involved the BCPO GGNTF in this case once it was determined that Carlton lived in Evesham Township in Burlington County. A controlled purchase of one of these ghost guns was conducted in Hammonton, New Jersey. During this controlled purchase, Carlton sold a ghost gun to a confidential informant. Carlton was arrested as a result of this controlled purchase and BCPO GGNTF detectives obtained a warrant to search Carlton’s residence.
The search of the residence resulted in the seizure of approximately thirty-seven guns in whole or part.
Carlton was charged with multiple counts related to the manufacture, possession, and sale of these illegal weapons.
This case was transferred to Atlantic County for prosecution.
STATE v. MAURICE HOWARD, et al.
Beginning in 2016, Burlington County Law Enforcement became aware of a large-scale marijuana distribution ring operating from various locations in Burlington and Camden Counties.
Investigation into this drug distribution operation revealed that defendant Maurice Howard was the leader of the organization. Law enforcement discovered that Howard had at least two residences: one in Cherry Hill, NJ and one in San Diego California and that Howard travelled extensively between Philadelphia and California.
An investigation into Howard’s finances revealed that Howard was conducting numerous financial transactions between various bank accounts totaling several hundred thousand dollars per year despite reported employment paying approximately sixty thousand dollars a year. Detectives also discovered that Howard regularly made large cash withdrawals and had numerous associates making regular cash deposits into his accounts in amounts less than ten thousand dollars in an attempt to evade SEC reporting requirements and hide the source of the funds.
A wiretap investigation revealed that Howard was involved in the large-scale distribution of marijuana obtained from California.
Search warrants were executed at Howard’s residence. A large amount of marijuana, financial documents, and electronic devices, among other items, were seized.
Howard was charged with Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with the Intent to Distribute (Third Degree) and Money Laundering (First Degree).
Howard is pending indictment on those charges.
STATE v. JOHN VU
United States Postal Service (USPS) personnel notified Moorestown Township Police Department (MTPD) Officers and BCPO GGNTF detectives that a large quantity of ecstasy pills was scheduled to be delivered to the TD Bank in Moorestown, New Jersey. The pills were addressed to a name that did not match any employees of the TD Bank. Law enforcement officers, including USPS inspectors, MTPD officers, and BCPO GGNTF detectives arranged a controlled delivery of the ecstasy pills in order to determine the purchaser’s identity.
The controlled delivery occurred, and John Vu took possession of the ecstasy pills. Vu was arrested and interviewed and admitted to purchasing and possessing the pills. Vu stated that the pills originated in Europe, and that he had utilized the “dark web” to purchase the ecstasy. Vu also admitted to selling ecstasy pills in the past and that he planned to sell the pills seized during this case. Vu also stated that he used cellular telephone payment applications to complete the narcotics transactions.
Detectives obtained records of Vu’s payment applications and bank records and determined Vu profited significantly from the sale of narcotics.
The ecstasy pills were analyzed by the Burlington County Forensic Laboratory and determined to be ecstasy in a quantity of more than one half ounce, but less than 5 ounces.
Vu was charged with Possession of CDS with the Intent to Distribute (Second Degree).
STATE v. DAQUAN MARSHALL
On or about October 30, 2018 Burlington Township Police Department (BTPD) officers responded to 6 Central Avenue, Burlington Township for the report of a possible overdose. When officers arrived, they located Alexandra Kohfeldt within her boyfriend Ryan Rambo’s bedroom. Kohfeldt never regained consciousness and later died at Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro.
Officers searched the room in which they found Kohfeldt and located a syringe and a white wax fold stamped “Topgear” in blue ink. Officers learned that Kohfeldt had recently relapsed back into heroin use. Rambo advised officers that Kohfeldt commonly purchased the heroin in Trenton, NJ.
Kohfeldt’s mother provided consent to search Kohfeldt’s phone. The phone was forensically examined and multiple text message conversations pertaining to the purchase of heroin between Kohfeldt and the defendant were found on the iPhone.
Marshall was arrested on November 4, 2018 and charged with CDS distribution. Marshall was interviewed after arrest and admitted to selling CDS to Kohfeldt and to the undercover officers.
In January of 2019, a laboratory analysis of Kohfeldt’s bodily fluids revealed that she died as a result of a fatal overdose of fentanyl.
In February of 2019, an analysis of both Marshall and Kohfeldt’s cellular telephone records indicated that Kohfeldt traveled to Trenton, NJ just before her fatal overdose and met with Marshall, whose cellular phone was located in the same area of Trenton, NJ as Kohfeldt.
Marshall was charged with, and indicted for, Drug Induced Death, Possession of CDS with the Intent to Distribute, Possession of CDS, and Conspiracy to Distribute CDS.
STATE v. AUSTIN COOPER
On December 26, 2017, a 15-year-old female juvenile victim (M.M.) was found unconscious and unresponsive in the bedroom of her Evesham Township, New Jersey home by her father.
Evesham Township Police Department (ETPD) officers and medical personnel responded to M.M.’s residence and found that she had suffered from a probable heroin/opiate overdose.
M.M. was transported to Virtua Hospital, but never regained consciousness. M.M. was almost immediately airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania and placed on life support. M.M. passed away on December 28, 2017 as a result of complications of drug toxicity.
A forensic analysis of her cellular telephone revealed that she had contacted the defendant, Austin Cooper to purchase heroin in the weeks leading up to her fatal overdose.
Law enforcement identified and located Cooper. GGNTF detectives and ETPD officers executed a search warrant at Cooper’s residence and seized a distribution-level quantity of heroin, fentanyl, and electronic communication devices, including, but not limited to, a cellular telephone and laptop computer.
A forensic analysis of these devices revealed that Cooper had conducted internet searches around the time of M.M.’s death related to narcotics distribution and the avoidance of law enforcement investigative techniques. These searches included “How to get a girl addicted to heroin,” “How to get people addicted to heroin,” “How to cut fentanyl with heroin,” and searches related to what kind of information law enforcement officers could obtain from a forensic search of a cellular telephone.
The forensic analysis also revealed multiple communications between Cooper and other parties during which Cooper stated that he was responsible for killing M.M. with a fatal dose of heroin. Despite believing that his narcotics had killed M.M., Cooper continued to buy and distribute heroin and fentanyl.
Laboratory analysis of M.M.’s bodily fluids and an autopsy of M.M. revealed that she died from an overdose of heroin.
Cooper was charged with, and indicted for, First Degree Drug Induced Death and multiple counts of Distribution of CDS/Possession of CDS/Possession of CDS with the Intent to Distribute based upon the narcotics seized and the time of the execution of the search warrant and the distribution of the fatal dose of heroin to M.M.
In April of 2019, Cooper pleaded guilty to one count of Drug Induced Death. In June of 2019, Cooper was sentenced to eight years in the care and custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, 85% of which must be served before he is eligible for parole.
H-BLOCK CRIMINAL STREET GANG INVESTIGATION
Members of this Trenton-based mostly juvenile criminal street gang were arrested in Burlington and Mercer Counties and multiple search warrants executed on the residences or locations utilized by members following the social media posting of a robbery and assault upon a victim (D.C.) and a reported accidental shooting of a juvenile victim (A.R.) by a juvenile suspect (A.C.) at a Willingboro Township car wash.
Law enforcement’s concern was heightened again when a few days after the shooting and assault of A.C., H-Block Members were captured on social media brandishing firearms, including a Mac-11 automatic pistol, while riding in the rear of an Uber car.
Multiple firearms, including a Mac-11 automatic pistol, were seized as a result of these search warrants.
The investigation was led by BCPO GGNTF detectives and assisted by the Florence Township Police Department, the Mercer County Prosecutors Office, the Trenton City Police Department, the Willingboro Township Police Department, and the Pemberton Township Police Department.
H-Block has been effectively dismantled and rendered ineffectual. This case serves as a good example of pro-active, modern policing which serves the interests of the community.