They were mothers, sons, sisters, and cousins, selling drugs in one of Camden's most dangerous neighborhoods, authorities said.
The heroin, cocaine, and crack reached into Camden and beyond, spilling into Lindenwold, Gloucester City, and Sicklerville. It was sold out of Sheridan and Liberty Streets.
On Wednesday - after three years of investigation - authorities launched what they called the biggest FBI drug takedown in Camden in a decade. They charged 22 people after using wiretaps, confidential informants, and tracking devices hidden on vehicles driven by suspects.
"Many of them actually are relatives, making this a true family affair," U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said at a news conference following the roundup.
Four of the 22 were still being sought Wednesday. Two were already in custody before Wednesday's sting. Investigators also confiscated three weapons and two loaded magazines.
Although none of the suspects has been tied to violent crimes, Fishman said, the investigation will continue. The Camden County Police Department Metro Division, the county Prosecutor's Office, and the New Jersey State Police, among others, participated in the investigation.
Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson noted that the neighborhood, Whitman Park, is a high-crime area where dozens of homicides and hundreds of shootings have taken place in recent years. Since 2012, there have been at least 12 homicides in Whitman Park.
Authorities identified the alleged drug leaders as Efraim Rivera, 33, and cousins Raymond Roldan, 38, and Jerome Ramos, 33. Those in custody had hearings throughout Wednesday in federal court in Camden. They faced a variety of drug charges, including conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack.
The drug operation included organizers who oversaw two groups that sold more than 275 ounces of powdered cocaine in a three-month period from December to March, authorities said.
Rivera, in charge of one faction, allegedly worked from his mother's home on Liberty, authorities said. He traveled to Philadelphia to buy cocaine after taking orders by phone, authorities said.
Rivera's group then sold the cocaine to members of the other faction, which converted it into crack, authorities said. Rivera has a girlfriend who is a cousin of Ramos, who is a leader in one of the factions, authorities said.
Ramos' group raked in up to $1,800 a day trafficking heroin on Sheridan and nearby streets, turning entire blocks into drug corridors, authorities said. Early Wednesday, when several residents said they were sleeping, investigators arrived en masse. They shut down three blocks as they searched four addresses and nabbed their suspects.
At the news conference, Edward Hanko, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia division, said he thought the charges could deter others.
"You can't arrest your way out of the problem," he said. "But that's a start."
Thomson said that with the drug dealers in jail, the rebuilding of Whitman Park can start.
"We have a very long road ahead of us," Thomson said. "Today's event is a first step in that journey."
Wanda Lindsay, 50, a resident who lives near Sheridan Street, said she felt sorry for those arrested.
"They just got a bad start," said Lindsay, who talked about doing drugs at one time herself. She said that for young people in Camden, selling is "part of survival."
Albert Harvey, 65, another Whitman Park resident, said he often passes drug dealers and users doing business in front of houses, many boarded-up and marked with graffiti memorializing those killed in the area.
The drug dealers, he said, "do what they got to do."
"I don't criticize them. And the police have a job to do, too," Harvey said, showing track marks that scarred his arms from the heroin he shot up for 30 years before he quit 15 years ago. He is now retired after working as a cook for the Salvation Army.
"Mostly, all the areas in Camden are drug markets," Harvey said. "It's everywhere."