On one end of the line was a reputed soldier with the Lucchese crime family.
On the other was a ranking member of a North Jersey faction of the Bloods, one of the country's most violent street gangs.
The two men were talking business.
And state investigators were listening.
The wiretapped conversation from July 2007 is one of hundreds that are part of a racketeering indictment charging 34 reputed underworld figures.
More important, it offers a look at what one top New Jersey law enforcement figure has described as a "troubling alliance" - wiseguys and Bloods, outlaws from two different cultures and underworlds coming together to make things happen.
The indictment, returned this month by a state grand jury, alleges that organized-crime figures helped members of the Bloods smuggle drugs and prepaid cell phones into East Jersey State Prison (formerly Rahway State Prison), setting up a financial enterprise in which they all made money.
Cocaine, heroin, and marijuana were selling for what amounted to "a thousand percent profit," according to Edwin Spears, the self-described five-star general of the Nine Trey Gangster set of the Bloods.
Spears, 37, was an inmate in the prison and coordinated the sales.
Investigators tracked and recorded at least a dozen conversations the high-ranking gang member had with reputed mobsters Joseph Perna, 40, and Michael Cetta, 41.
The investigation, Operation Heat, also uncovered what authorities allege was the Lucchese family's involvement in a $2 billion sports betting ring and in extortion, money-laundering, and financial fraud.
Perna is the son of reputed Lucchese capo, or captain, Ralph Perna, 64, who also was charged.
While a relatively new phenomenon, the connection between mobsters and urban gangsters is not unexpected, one veteran investigator said.
"To see Bloods dealing with traditional organized crime doesn't surprise me at all," said Richard Norcross, a retired squad commander with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and a gang expert. "It's about making money."
Spears, now a fugitive, was well-known to gang investigators, said Norcross, who described him as a "mover and a shaker" in the underworld.
How he and Perna connected has not been made clear, but their association created an alliance that Stephen Taylor, director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, called troubling for law enforcement.
It was also clear from the taped conversations that Spears was happy to have made that connection.
"Yo, I love you guys to death, you know what I'm saying," he said in one phone call. ". . . I want you to feel me like I feel you guys, man."
Snippets of several conversations involving the prison smuggling operation are in a 195-page investigative affidavit that is part of the pending case. They underscore the relationship between the mobsters and the gang leader and offer insights into how inmates got around prison security.
At one point Perna asked Spears if he had a good place to hide his phone.
"I got it inside a soda can," Spears said. "I hollowed out the bottom of the soda can. . . . I take one soda out the case, because the case is wrapped in plastic, right. . . . I stick [the phone] in there. I stick it back in the case, the case looks like it's never been touched."
In the same conversation Spears talked about the amount of money he was making from the sale of drugs and asked Perna to arrange for an associate to "front" a shipment.
"Listen, tell him to front the five. I'm gonna pay him for it," he said. "I'm gonna see off the five, I'm gonna see seven thousand . . . minimum seven thousand."
The conversations outline the "full business cycle" of the operation, according to Christopher Donohue, an investigator with the Division of Criminal Justice, who filed the affidavit.
According to Donohue, Perna and Cetta provided cash to Spears' brother, Dwayne, who bought drugs and cell phones and gave them to Michael Bruinton, a prison guard. Bruinton then smuggled the contraband into the prison to Edwin Spears.
Dwayne Spears, 30, and Bruinton, 46, also have been charged. Bruinton has since resigned.
The conversations indicate that the inmates paid for the drugs and phones by having friends or relatives send money orders to two women working with Edwin Spears. The women, who also have been charged, arranged to get the money back to the mobsters.
Some of the cash was taken as profit, and the rest was rolled back into the "business" to buy more drugs and phones.
In one conversation, Edwin Spears told his girlfriend that Cetta was putting some of the cash aside for him as a nest egg. Spears, who was serving a 10-year term on assault and related charges, was released in March 2009.
"Mike . . . is putting the money up for me," he said.
Just how much money the operation generated was not disclosed in the affidavit or indictment.
But Norcross said the money would be significant.
As an example, he pointed to another case in which a state prison guard was charged with smuggling cell phones. The guard eventually pleaded guilty and provided details about what he had been doing.
"He was going to a rest stop on the turnpike and buying three cell phones at a time," Norcross said. "The phones cost $30 each. He'd sell them inside for $600 each. . . . He'd spend $90 and walk out with $1,800."
The markup for drugs inside a prison is similar, Norcross said, adding that Spears, as a leader of the Bloods, would have had no trouble finding customers.
"The Bloods would provide a large market share within the prison," Norcross said with a laugh.
The wiretaps also indicate that the relationship between the Bloods and the Lucchese crime family extended to the streets.
Perna told Spears that an associate of the mob family was being extorted by an individual who claimed to be a member of the Bloods. Perna planned to confront him but wanted Spears' support.
The gang leader was happy to intervene.
"All right, listen. When you meet him, tell him that . . . I'm your brother."
"I'm gonna tell him nicely to - just to back up, because this is not his situation," Perna said as the conversation continued.
Spears provided more advice while offering a look at the inner workings of the Bloods organization and throwing out the nicknames of some of its leaders.
"My gangster name, I'm saying, in my hood is Movelli, all right?" Spears said. "I got five star under Nine Trey Gangster Bloods, all right. . . . Now you tell him that Red Eye brought me home. I'm under Red Eye in New Jersey, and I'm under Frank White in New York. . . . Tell him I can get in contact with anybody from Jersey or New York. . . . Anybody. So whoever he know . . . let him know that, listen, your guy can find out who is who, you know what I'm saying? . . . Find out if the guy's official or not."
Spears also told Perna to mention Shinehead and Mobster Rule, two other gang leaders, even though both were dead.
"Mobster Rule got killed," Spears said. "Shinehead got killed. But throw those names, cause they, they carry a lot . . . of weight. Dead or alive."
Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or email@example.com.