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Drug Court Success

In Mercer County Superior Court Yesterday I successfully enrolled a client with serious charges into “drug court.” Drug court is an alternative sentence for individuals who have serious (usually non-violent and non gun offenses) who suffer from addition issues. It is a great way to resolve matters, justice is done and defendants receive the help they need.

Man Who had $1.2 Million in Drug Money in His Car When Arrested by Division of Criminal Justice is Sentenced to 10 Years in State Prison

Defendant indicted with 11 alleged members and associates of narcotics ring in “Operation Skin Deep”
click image to enlarge

TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that a drug dealer who was arrested by the Division of Criminal Justice with $1.2 million in drug money in the trunk of his car was sentenced to state prison today on a money laundering charge. It was one of the largest cash seizures in New Jersey law enforcement history.

The defendant was indicted with 11 alleged members and associates of a drug network that marketed cocaine and designer drugs online and distributed them through the mail.  They were charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice called “Operation Skin Deep.”

Shazad Khan, 35, of North Bergen was sentenced to 10 years in state prison, including 42 months of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. Khan pleaded guilty in June to first-degree money laundering. Khan was arrested along with a tractor trailer driver, Jose Ruvalcaba, 31, of Oxnard, Calif., in a parking lot off Union Turnpike in North Bergen, N.J. Detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice found approximately $1.2 million in cash in the trunk of Khan’s Infiniti, wrapped in bundles with duct tape. Khan met Ruvalcaba so that Ruvalcaba could transport the cash as payment for cocaine. Ruvalcaba pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was previously sentenced to seven years in prison.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Barile is prosecuting the defendants and handled the sentencing of Khan for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau.

“Khan was arrested by the Division of Criminal Justice in one of the largest seizures of drug money in New Jersey law enforcement history – money that bought him a lengthy term in state prison,” said Attorney General Grewal. “I commend the detectives and prosecutors who conducted this far-reaching investigation, which started with street-level dealers in Atlantic City and expanded to uncover a multi-million dollar criminal syndicate that used the internet to market its drugs.”

“The excellent work of our attorneys and detectives in the Division of Criminal Justice has led to lengthy state prison sentences for the top members of this internet-age narcotics ring,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to protect the public by aggressively targeting the drug traffickers who are bringing addiction and drug-related violence to our communities”

Three top leaders of the drug ring previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced by Judge DeLury:

  1. Christopher Castelluzzo, 33, of Lake Hopatcong, N.J., who formed and led the criminal organization, pleaded guilty to a first-degree charge of leader of a narcotics trafficking network and was sentenced to 21 years in prison, including nearly 18 years of parole ineligibility;
  1. Castelluzzo’s partner, Luke A. Atwell, 37, of Hamilton (Mercer County), N.J., who acted as managing partner of the drug ring, pleaded guilty to a first-degree charge of leader of a narcotics trafficking network and was sentenced to 19 years in prison, including 16 years of parole ineligibility; and
  1. Aldo T. Lapaix, 31, of Absecon, N.J., who helped procure drugs for the ring and handled the packaging and shipping of drugs, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with 8 ½ years of parole ineligibility on first-degree charges of racketeering and distribution of cocaine.

Six other ring members have pleaded guilty and received or face sentences ranging from five to 10 years in state prison.

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.

Deputy Attorney General Barile, who now is Deputy Bureau Chief of the Prosecutors Supervision Bureau, has prosecuted the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Andrew Johns, Deputy Bureau Chief Jacqueline Smith, and Assistant Attorney General Jill Mayer, Deputy Director of the Division of Criminal Justice. 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.


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Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello Announces Upcoming Events in Mercer County Clerk’s Office Concerning Early Voting, Passports and Veterans IDs

Mercer County Clerk

Paula Sollami Covello

209 South Broad St, PO Box 8068

Trenton, NJ 08650-0068 | (609) 989-6465

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
10/22/2018

TRENTON – In addition to conducting regular business in our office in Trenton and Hamilton, the Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello wants to notify the public of the following important events and dates:

Wednesday, October 24 at 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.Extended Office hours to walk in to County Clerk’s Office of Elections. Pick up your ballot to Vote by Mail (VBM) in the November General Election.

Tuesday, October 30: Deadline for mailing a Vote by Mail application to receive a ballot for General Election.

Saturday, November 3, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.Extended Office hours to walk in to County Clerk’s Office of Elections. Pick up your ballot to Vote by Mail in the New Jersey November General Election.

Sunday, November 4, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.: Extended Office hours to walk in to County Clerk’s Office of Elections. Pick up your ballot to Vote by Mail in the New Jersey November General Election.

Monday, November 5: Deadline to apply to Vote by Mail in person at the Mercer County Clerk’s Office, 209 South Broad Street, 2nd Floor, Trenton.

November 5 – 16: Free Veterans IDs for the Week of Veterans Day. Veteran ID services are located at the Office of the Mercer County Clerk, 209 South Broad Street, 2nd Floor, Trenton.

Tuesday, November 6General Election Day: Polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for voting. Vote by Mail ballots must be delivered to Mercer Board of Elections by 8 p.m. or bear a postmark with the date of Election Day (and received by the 8th) to be counted.

Thursday, November 29 at 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.: County Clerk’s Passport Services at theEwing Municipal Building, 2 Jake Garzio Drive, Ewing, NJ 08628. Passport agents will be on hand to take photos and help applicants fill out and process applications. Please call (609) 989-6473 to reserve a time slot.

December 3 – 14Free Veteran IDs for the week of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Veteran ID services are located at the Office of the Mercer County Clerk, 209 South Broad Street, 2nd Floor, Trenton.

About the Mercer County Clerk’s Office

The County Clerk’s Office offers many services that Mercer residents and businesses use every day. The Clerk’s Office files and records all documents concerning real estate ownership and transfer, registers small business trade names, processes U.S. passport applications, and swears in notary public applicants.

The office offers photos for people seeking passports and County and Veteran ID cards, and Gold-Star Parent ID cards as well.  The County Clerk also has certain election responsibilities – including the printing of ballots, counting of votes cast by electronic machines and the issuance of vote-by-mail ballots. We post election results for you at www.mercercounty.org/countyclerk.

We also offer passport services with extended hours at our Trenton office on South Broad Street and at the County’s satellite office, the Mercer County Connection, located in the Hamilton Square Shopping Center, Route 33 and Paxson Avenue in Hamilton Township.

# # #

Detention Heard Mercer County

The law on bail changed recently in New Jersey – basically there is no more bail (so much for the Constitutional right to bail). For serious offenses the State can try to detain an individual but if that’s the case a defendant is entitled to a detention hearing. I’m at the office this afternoon preparing for a detention hearing in Mercer County Superior Court on a conspiracy to commit murder charge.

Pennington Borough

  1. Managed to get a driving while intoxicated case dismissed tonight in Pennington Boro. The issue was the stop of my clients car – or more specifically then lack of probable cause for the stop. Pennington Boro is usually a great place to go to court – a fair judge and a fair prosecutor. Tonight was no exception.

Trenton Narcotics Dealer Sentenced to 30 Years in State Prison for Distributing First-Degree Quantity of Cocaine

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a Trenton narcotics dealer was sentenced to prison today for distributing a first-degree quantity of cocaine.  He was charged in an investigation by the New Jersey State Police, during which he distributed half a pound of cocaine.

Marcus Covington, 37, of Trenton, N.J., was sentenced to 30 years in state prison, including 15 years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Robert W. Bingham II in Mercer County.  Covington was found guilty May 17 by a Mercer County jury of all five counts against him in a state grand jury indictment, including a first-degree charge of distribution of cocaine, second-degree charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and distribution of cocaine within 500 feet of a public housing project, and third-degree charges of possession of cocaine and distribution of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school.

Deputy Attorneys General Michael A. Klein and Sarah Mielke tried the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.  They were assisted at trial by Analysts Kimberly Namura and Nathalie Kurzawa.  Covington was indicted as the result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime Central Unit and Crime Suppression Central Unit.  Detective Douglas Muraglia was the lead detective for the State Police.

The state presented testimony and evidence that from Feb. 10 through June 15, 2016, Covington conducted 10 sales of cocaine in Trenton totaling approximately 224 grams.  In three of the transactions, Covington was assisted by a co-conspirator, Wayne Meyers, 36, of Trenton. Meyers previously pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree distribution of cocaine.  He was sentenced in June to seven years and two months in state prison, including 43 months of parole ineligibility.

“While the opioid epidemic has rightly focused law enforcement attention on heroin, fentanyl and opioid pain pills, we have not lost sight of the fact that cocaine is involved in hundreds of overdose deaths in New Jersey each year and fuels the gun violence that surrounds street-level drug dealing,” said Attorney General Grewal. “I commend the trial team and State Police detectives who have ensured that this drug dealer will spend a long time in prison, where he can’t traffic his poison.”

“We will continue to partner with the New Jersey State Police to investigate and prosecute the narcotics traffickers profiting from addiction in our communities,” said Director Veronica Allende of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. “We want drug dealers like Covington to know that they will face lengthy prison sentences for their crimes.”

“By selling cocaine near schools and residential homes, Covington put law-abiding citizens and their children in danger of the gun violence that goes hand-in-hand with drug dealing,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “I commend the outstanding work of the New Jersey State Police Gangs and Organized Crime Central Unit and Crime Suppression Central Unit who worked closely with our partners to send this defendant to prison.”

Deputy Attorney General Klein presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Erik Daab and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis. Attorney General Grewal commended the members of the New Jersey State Police Gangs & Organized Crime Central Unit and Crime Suppression Central Unit who conducted the investigation.


Defense Attorneys: 
Andrew Ferencevych and John Furlong, Esqs., Furlong and Krasny, Ewing, N.J.


Follow the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office online at TwitterFacebookInstagramFlicker & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.