Saturday, August 17 2019

Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force

The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force (GGNTF) was organized in October 1987, pursuant to the Attorney General’s Statewide Narcotics Action Plan (SNAP) for Narcotics Enforcement.  In March 1993, a working group consisting of law enforcement professionals revised this plan, which provides guidance for all task force operations.  This plan is now commonly referred to as “SNAP II Guidelines.”  As the narcotics enforcement plan evolved, a three-part strategy for curtailing street violence, combating violent street gangs and ensuring safe neighborhoods in the Garden State was introduced. The strategy reinforced issues of enforcement, prevention and re-entry with an emphasis on reducing gang violence, violent crime and recidivism.  It followed a strategy that was rooted in intelligence-led policing. The primary enforcement aspect of the plan was aimed at targeting and prosecuting those who engage in gang violence and carry illegal weapons.   

In March 2008, the Narcotics Task Force’s name was officially changed to the Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force (GGNTF), pursuant to New Jersey’s Safe Streets – Safe Neighborhoods Initiative.  Additionally, the name change was a requirement to participants in the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which is a grant managed by the State of New Jersey and used to finance all aspects of the Statewide Multi-Jurisdictional County Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Forces. 

The Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force is responsible for investigations leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who violate the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of New Jersey.  The GGNTF currently operates with one sergeant and five detectives coming under the direction of a lieutenant and a captain.

Two assistant prosecutors are assigned to the Unit, including the Unit supervisor, who is responsible for the daily functions of the Unit, along with providing legal services to all Burlington County municipal police agencies and the New Jersey State Police.  Additionally, municipal police officers within Burlington County are periodically assigned to the GGNTF as Task Force Officers (TFO).  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 narcotics cases and/or start up their own gun and narcotics investigation unit.  In 2016, the Burlington Township Police Department and the Bordentown Township Police Department participated in the TFO Program. 

The Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force renders assistance to municipal police departments and other agencies throughout Burlington County. Gun and narcotics investigations are developed through information received from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, the Secret Witness Hotline, confidential informants, citizen complaints, arrested individuals and internet-based complaint websites.  The GGNTF is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

During 2016, detectives assigned to GGNTF received refresher training on a continuing basis on the latest trends in drug use, investigative and surveillance techniques and the ever-changing law governing search and seizure.  The GGNTF provided training for local officers covering topics such as drug identification, investigative interviews, surveillance techniques, search warrant preparation and service, undercover investigations and other drug-related topics.

The GGNTF made arrangements for officers from local departments to attend training at various seminars sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, New Jersey Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association, Northeast Counterdrug Training Center, Middle Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), Multi-Jurisdictional Counter Drug Training Center, the Southern Counties and Statewide County Narcotics Task Force Commanders Associations, as well as the State of New Jersey’s Division of Criminal Justice.

TRENDS IN BURLINGTON COUNTY

Drug enforcement issues arising in Burlington County reflect continuing statewide, national and international problems.  As the County continues to grow and be developed, so do problems with gangs, guns and drugs.

Opiate-induced (heroin) drug overdoses in the county continue to increase despite a proactive GGNTF and municipal agency investigative campaign, local drug awareness programs, as well as the aggressive approach being taken by drug treatment centers in treating addiction. Fentanyl, as well as derivatives of Fentanyl, has been identified as the primary adulterant used to increase the potency of low-quality heroin. Fentanyl is a potent, synthetic opioid analgesic with a rapid onset and short duration of action.  It is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade (100% pure) heroin.  Since April 2014, New Jersey law enforcement has been authorized to carry and administer Naloxone.  Naloxone, marketed under the trade name Narcan among others, is a pure opioid antagonist and is used to counter the effects of opioids, especially in an overdose situation.  In Burlington County, 32 law enforcement agencies were trained in administering Narcan.  In July 2014, Narcan was deployed 30 times in Burlington County, with 28 saves through December 31, 2014.  For 2015, there were 137 deployments resulting in 131 saves.  During 2016, 195 Naloxone deployments resulted in 188 saves. 

For 2016, methamphetamine and crystal methamphetamine seizures in the County saw significant increases.  Crystal methamphetamine or “ice” has also swept into other parts of the country, most notably the Pacific Northwest, West Coast and the Southwest, as Mexican cartels have added this drug to their growing smorgasbord of available controlled dangerous substances

Street gangs also continue to make headlines.  Along with the standard drug dealing trademark traditionally associated with street gangs, there was an increase in violent crimes, such as beatings and convenience store robberies.  Gang members use violence as the primary tactic to resolve turf disputes, instill discipline amongst their own ranks and intimidate persons likely to cooperate with law enforcement. The gangs have also made themselves more complex in terms of structure and their means of communication.  Many gangs use social media to communicate and post meeting information to spread their various ideologies.       

The marijuana market continues to be pervasive in Burlington County.  The grades of marijuana vary, with the high-grade product grown hydroponically indoors.  There has been marijuana that has been engineered (grafted by using different breeds), known as hybrids.  In 2010, the State passed a bill, known as the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” which legalized the possession of marijuana by certain entities meeting predetermined criteria.  Burlington County continues to see a continued rise in marijuana seizures via mail delivery services, which is directly attributed to the 23 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized the possession of certain amounts of marijuana and THC-based edibles. 

The cocaine market in Burlington County continues to remain steady and active.  Street sales of cocaine in the form of both crack and powder cocaine have been constant in certain areas of the county.

Local dealers commonly travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Trenton utilizing the River Line Transportation System to purchase cocaine in powder form. They then travel back to Burlington County and convert the cocaine into cocaine-base, known on the street as “crack.”  Seizures of powder cocaine have risen, as enforcement efforts have been increased to combat this problem, though for several years, “crack” cocaine has been the drug of choice in many areas of the county. 

Burlington County is also experiencing the ever-growing epidemic regarding the illicit pill trade.  Cases involving diversion of controlled medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax, to name a few, have grown exponentially.  Prescription pad thefts are on the rise as a result of burglaries of medical offices.  The stolen prescriptions end up getting filled at local pharmacies or sold to individuals who then fill the prescription in hopes of turning a hefty profit.  Reports continue to be received regarding the forgery of prepared and signed prescriptions.  Perpetrators modified the prescriptions by dipping them in an alcohol solution, in an effort to “lift” away the original pen ink used and would then generate a totally new prescription, usually for the controlled variety of medication.   Another disturbing trend is the use of pills, such as Diltiazem as an adulterant.  Its use enhances and prolongs the effects of opioids, as well as amplifies the overdose potential of heroin.  It is a strong depressant that combats the come-down effects of cocaine and heroin with massive risk.

The State of New Jersey continued to battle the opioid epidemic by using its Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) as a tool to track and identify entities involved with abusive dispensing and filling of prescriptions.  A team of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice, dubbed the “Prescription Fraud Investigative Strike Team” (PFIST) has been assembled to assist local agencies to specifically target healthcare providers.         

SIGNIFICANT CASES DURING 2016

State v. Dante Fox

The defendant was the subject of an investigation that culminated in his arrest on first-degree Possession with Intent to Distribute charges for cocaine.  Between the investigation and the execution of a search warrant at his home, police seized over five pounds of cocaine and in excess of $80,000 in cash.  He is currently serving a sentence of 15 years in New Jersey state prison as a result of the investigation. 

State v. Arthur Burns

During the course of an extensive and lengthy investigation, the defendant was charged with selling more than four ounces of cocaine to an undercover narcotics detective and five pounds of cocaine to various other individuals.  Police also seized $20,000 in cash.  The defendant pled guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in New Jersey state prison. 

State v. Malik Ballard

The defendant engaged in a conspiracy with Arthur Burns to distribute cocaine.  He pled guilty to a second-degree Conspiracy charge and faces seven years in New Jersey state prison when sentenced. 

State v. Vaughn Williams

An undercover agent purchased nine ounces of cocaine from the defendant, who pled guilty and was sentenced to 11 years in New Jersey state prison. 

State v. Tracie Hines

An anonymous tip was sent to Crime Stoppers indicating that the defendant had a marijuana grow facility inside her residence.  GGNTF detectives and members of the Evesham Police Department conducted an investigation and were given consent to search the home.  Inside they located 84 marijuana plants and a ventilation system in the basement.  The defendant was sentenced to five years in New Jersey state prison. 

GGNTF QUALITY OF LIFE PRO-ACTIVE OPERATIONS

In 2016, GGNTF assisted several municipal police departments with Quality of Life Initiatives.  The primary enforcement aspect of the plan was aimed at targeting those who engaged in open-air drug trafficking near schools or in primary routes of travel utilized by students to get to school.  Throughout these initiatives, undercover officers would approach suspected drug peddlers and make purchases of crack cocaine, marijuana and pills.  At the conclusion of the initiatives, arrest warrants were secured and tactically served.

These cases highlight the many and varied types of investigations conducted by the Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force in 2016.  Nearly 90 investigations were conducted during this time period.  Working with local, state and federal agencies, the Task Force served search warrants in numerous municipalities resulting in the seizure of drugs including marijuana, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), ethylone, methamphetamine and heroin, along with firearms, U.S. currency and other contraband.  Many of these warrants were executed in areas where street level drug distribution was occurring and accompanied by a high incidence of violence that required the use of the New Jersey State Police T.E.A.M.S. Unit or the tactical team operated by the municipality in which the search warrant was to be served.

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