Leader and 14 Members of Newark Drug Trafficking Ring Charged

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NEWARK, N.J. – Fifteen people were charged today for their roles in a Newark heroin and crack cocaine distribution organization that sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of illegal drugs out of a residential building on Fairmount Avenue, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.

The alleged leader of the operation, Jakai Dennis (see chart below), is charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise. Dennis also is charged, along with the 15 other defendants, with one count each of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 280 grams or more of crack cocaine, and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. All of the defendants are in custody and are scheduled to have their initial court appearances later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre in Newark federal court.

“This drug trafficking organization attempted to take control of an entire neighborhood,” Acting U.S. Attorney Honig said. “The defendants’ use of violence and intimidation made life intolerable for the community members who live there. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to disrupt operations like these and make our streets safer for the people who call Newark home.”

“The residents of this section of Fairmount Avenue have lived as a captive audience, watching their neighborhood degrade due to the daily drug dealing on their street and the unwelcome violence it brings,” Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. said. “As shootings and violent crime continue to escalate in this and other cities around the country, the FBI will remain vigilant, working with our law enforcement partners – including the Newark Police Department – to combat this ongoing epidemic.” 

According to the complaint:

The defendants allegedly ran a sophisticated operation that took advantage of the residential building’s location to sell drugs from the porch area, which was guarded by a locked steel door and difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate despite a constant stream of buyers approaching the front porch area day and night. One of the defendants was the building’s superintendent, who was paid in money and heroin to store drugs in his apartment and to give the other defendants access to an empty apartment on the second floor, which they also used to store drugs and guns.

The defendants worked in shifts from 6:00 a.m. until late in the evening. Buyers came on foot, in vehicles and on bicycles to purchase the illegal drugs. The heroin sold was of a high quality and was sold in various “brands,” which were stamped onto the glassine envelopes that contained the heroin, allowing buyers to identify and purchase the brands that they preferred. FBI surveillance witnessed hundreds of narcotics transactions from November 2020 to June 2021.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the FBI, which included surveillance, phone record review, the use of confidential informants to make more than 30 controlled purchases, and the review of arrests by local law enforcement, as well as seizures of heroin, crack cocaine and firearms. Based upon evidence obtained in the case, the defendants sold more than one kilogram of heroin and 280 grams of crack cocaine during the conspiracy period.

The count of running a continuing criminal enterprise carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison. The count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 280 grams or more of crack cocaine carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison. The charge of conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the FBI under the supervision of Special Agent in Charge Crouch in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges. She also thanked police officers and detectives of the Newark Police Department, under the direction of Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara; officers of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura; detectives of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II; the East Orange and Bloomfield police departments and the Essex County Department of corrections for their assistance with the investigation.

The government is represented by Senior Trial Counsel Robert Frazer of the Organized

Crime/Gangs Unit in the Criminal Division in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the federal criminal complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.


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