A New Jersey grand jury indicted 42 alleged drug dealers Friday in connection with a series of arrests last November that prosecutors are calling the largest drug bust in Camden in more than a decade.
Prosecutors said the 56-page indictment, which stemmed from a takedown dubbed “Operation North Pole,” takes aim at a violent narcotics network with ties to Mexican cartels whose participants dealt millions of dollars in cocaine and heroin each year.
Fourteen defendants have already pleaded guilty to related charges and face prison sentences, bringing the total number of defendants to 56, prosecutors said.
Three brothers - Omar Urbina Sr., 40, of Philadelphia; Edwin Urbina, 38, and Edward Urbina, 35, both of Camden – allegedly led the enterprise.
“The Urbinas had grown their drug dynasty in North Camden for at least 20 years, and when we targeted them, we aimed for everyone from the leaders right down to the street-level dealers,” Elie Honig, director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, said in a statement. “We cleaned them out of this area.”
Prosecutors said the Urbinas controlled “very lucrative” open-air drug markets in the areas of Fourth and York streets and Third and Erie streets, relying on violence to protect their turf from interlopers.
The reputed ring, described in a news release as “large, highly structured and extremely well-organized,” had a clear hierarchy, according to investigators.
Under the Urbina brothers was 30-year-old Eric Serrano Jr., of Pennsauken, who allegedly acted as a “controller,” responsible for hiring, firing and scheduling employees, collecting profits from drug sales and standardizing the packaging of drugs and the accounting and documentation of proceeds, prosecutors said.
Serrano Jr. allegedly served as a conduit between the Urbinas and the next level of the organization, reportedly called “case workers."
Prosecutors described the “case workers” as “mid-level managers” who were responsible for handing out drugs to and collecting proceeds from street-level dealers, or “trappers.”
The “trappers,” who comprised the lowest and largest level of the organization, conducted the majority of the hand-to-hand drug transactions, prosecutors said.
Also allegedly involved in the ring were “runners” and “baggers,” responsible for weighing, cutting, packaging and transporting bulk drugs from a variety of stash houses to the controller and case workers, officials said.
Authorities allege 40-year-old Rigo Bello, of Camden, used his ties to Mexican drug cartels to act as the ring’s primary supplier of cocaine and heroin. Bello is currently being sought as a fugitive.
The Urbinas also allowed others to “rent” certain blocks or corners to sell their own drugs, offering those “tenants” protection in return for monthly cash payments of up to $50,000, prosecutors said.
Some participants allegedly enjoyed a higher status as "franchisers" and were permitted to purchase separate quantities of drugs to distribute on their own, according to officials.
One alleged member of the ring, 42-year-old Oscar Orta, of Camden, was allowed to sell his own cocaine at locations controlled by the Urbinas in exchange for working as the enterprise’s “enforcer,” tasked with employing threats and violence to ensure that only approved narcotics were sold at the drug sets, investigators said.
Prosecutors said numerous members of the ring have violent criminal records and ties to street gangs, and that the enterprise routinely employed violence to protect its territory and enforce its rules.
One reputed “franchiser,” 25-year-old Anthony Morris, of Camden, is charged with aggravated assault and weapons offenses for allegedly participating in a shootout with rival drug dealers last May at Fourth and York streets during which a 17-year-old was caught in the crossfire and paralyzed below the waist.
Most of the defendants accused of participating in the ring were arrested last November, when the Division of Criminal Justice's Gangs and Organized Crime Bureau, working with multiple other law enforcement agencies, executed more than a dozen search warrants and seized cocaine, six guns, over $218,000 in cash and more than 10 vehicles, including a party bus, according to authorities.
“We targeted this major drug ring not only because of the trail of violence and devastation that it was leaving in Camden, but also because the open-air drug markets the Urbinas allegedly controlled were a primary source of heroin for suburban addicts, who easily accessed them from public transportation or the highway,” New Jersey Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said in a statement.
“In dismantling this criminal enterprise, we struck a blow both to suppress violence in the city and to stem the flow of deadly heroin claiming far too many young lives across New Jersey.”
All three Urbina brothers are charged with racketeering, conspiracy, leading a narcotics trafficking network, employing a juvenile in a drug distribution scheme, and various narcotics distribution offenses. Omar and Edwin Urbina are also charged with money laundering, prosecutors said.
If convicted, each of the Urbinas could face a life sentence in state prison.
Alleged supplier Bello and enforcer Orta are each charged with racketeering, conspiracy and narcotics distribution offenses, while Bello is also facing an additional count of money laundering.
In addition, three alleged suppliers, five alleged franchisers, 10 alleged case workers, 13 alleged trappers and five alleged runners and baggers are facing charges ranging from racketeering, conspiracy and narcotics distribution to aggravated assault and weapons offenses, prosecutors said.