Originally published on Courier Post
CAMDEN – A drug ring here had a reputation for violence, authorities say.
But its alleged members weren’t safe from attacks themselves, according to a federal criminal complaint.
One man was the target of repeated home-invasion robberies. Another had his car set on fire.
And the ring’s alleged leader noted the need to replace a worker — after a friend’s fatal shooting in an apparent drug-turf dispute.
Federal authorities recently charged 18 people, including 15 Camden residents, for alleged roles in the ring.
The network allegedly sold large amounts of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine from open-air markets in Camden, including on the 300 and 400 blocks of Beckett Street near the city’s port district, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.
It also supplied customers in Paulsboro, Philadelphia and as far away as West Virginia, the federal prosecutor’s office said in announcing the arrests on June 18.
The statement also said “high-level members” of the ring laundered drug money “through bulk vehicle purchases and real estate.’
Authorities allege the group was led and managed by three Camden men — Angel Rodriguez and Juan Cabrera, both 30, and Manuel Bonilla, 35 — as well as Franklin Lorenzo-Gonzalez, 25, of Pennsauken.
In an affidavit filed in Camden federal court, FBI Special Agent William Bowman described the ring as a danger to others.
Its markets – including the 300 block of Chestnut Street, the 400 blocks of Royden and Walnut streets, and the 600 block of Pine Street – “have been the location of concentrated drug activity and the scenes of shootings and other acts of violence,” Bowman observed.
He noted informants had reported that the ring “has used and continues to use violence to control the distribution of drugs.”
Bowman also said drug packaging with the ring’s “Star Wars” stamp was found at the scene of five Camden-area overdoses, two of them fatal.
The organization also alleged distributed heroin in packages stamped with the names Hellboy, Venom and Versace, the affidavit added.
On an average day, it sold at least 2,000 packets of heroin and 150 vials of powder cocaine, it estimated.
According to the affidavit, an investigation that began in September 2018 involved seven confidential sources, 31 undercover purchases and multiple intercepted conversations.
In June 2019, it said, a raid recovered almost 1,000 packets of heroin, 150 vials of powder cocaine and more than $31,000 from the home of an accused member, 35-year-old Ray Santos of Camden.
And in September 2019, investigators confiscated $12,000 while arresting Lorenzo-Rivera, who had allegedly traveled some 200 miles for a drug delivery in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Investigators also seized about 250 grams of heroin at the West Virginia drop site, the affidavit noted.
The next month, another alleged member – 29-year-old Julio Medina of Camden – said in an intercepted call “that his car was burned by someone and that person also stole $10,000 worth of narcotics from Bonilla and the (drug ring), as well as two firearms.”
Another alleged ring member, 19-year-old Anderlis Martinez-Espinal of Camden, was the victim of several home invasions.
He told police in April 2020 that three intruders “armed with handguns, broke into his residence, pretending to be law enforcement officers,” the affidavit said.
The thieves stole about $500 and a gold necklace. They also took Martinez-Espinal’s car keys, but not his vehicle.
Bowman suggested the intruders believed Martinez-Espinal “might have kept cash in his vehicle because drug transporters often store money and drugs in compartments within their vehicle to protect them from robbers and law enforcement officers.”
And the affidavit noted remarks by Rodriguez one day after the Jan. 2 shooting of Joshua Beatty, a 32-year-old Camden man.
Beatty, who was shot near the 6th and Pine, died four days later to become Camden’s first homicide victim of 2020.
Rodriguez, described as holding the ring’s “highest leadership role,” said “that rival drug dealers shot his friend,” the affidavit said.
He also recalled that Beatty had described “an earlier encounter with rival drug dealers who forbade anyone from selling on that corner,” it continued.
As a result of the shooting, Rodriguez said in an intercepted call, “he would need to replace Beatty.”
Other Camden residents accused of being ring members include Janet Lorenzo, 47; Jabriel Rosa, 38; Normali Santiago and Hector Mendez, both 36; and Brian Smith, 33.
Also: Hector Lopez, 31; Julio Medina, 29; Miguel Rodriguez, 27; and Pedro Yera and Christian Rosario, both 25.
Also charged were two Philadelphia men: 36-year-old Bernardo Carambot, who’s accused of being supplying drugs to the ring,and 26-year-old Alberto Perez.
Each defendant is charged with conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine.