The state has revoked the license of a South Jersey liquor store that was used in a prescription drug operation that sold opioids from a coin laundry across the street, officials said Tuesday.
The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control said it took the action after finding that the three brothers who owned Johnnie's Liquor Store in Bellmawr allowed their business to be used as a stash house. Camden County investigators seized 368 narcotics pills and $13,732 in cash during a raid at the store in May 2016, authorities said.
"These licensees used their liquor store as a stash house from which they pushed dangerous prescription opioids onto the streets and into the hands of users suffering from addiction," state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a statement.
The brothers, Rakesh, Dhananjaya, and Jalat Patel, all of Somerdale, were charged with possession of prescription painkillers with the intent to distribute and other offenses. Armando "Bolo" Rosario, a laundry employee, was also charged with drug offenses.
Mayor Frank Filipek welcomed the news that the liquor license had been revoked. The state notified the business on Thursday and the store was shut down immediately, he said. Borough police were dispatched to enforce the closing, he said.
"I'm just upset that it took so long," Filipek said Tuesday. "They should have lost their license two years ago."
>>READ MORE: In Bellmawr, a drug bust opens up a divide
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office conducted a three-month investigation of suspected drug activity in the Bellmawr Laundromat, located directly across the street from the liquor store at 834 W. Browning Rd. Authorities said at the time that they were targeting two trafficking networks.
According to the state agency, an undercover officer posing as a drug buyer purchased opioids from a dealer in the laundry who retrieved the drugs from the liquor store. During the raid, narcotics pills, including Oxycodone, Roxicet and Tramadol, were seized in a private office in the back of the store, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control said.
In voluntary sworn statements to investigators, the brothers admitting allowing Rosario, whom they knew to be a drug dealer, to use their liquor store for his alleged drug business, according to a revocation order released Tuesday. The brothers gave Rosario money to purchase drugs and split the drug profits with Rosario, Dhananjaya Patel told investigators. If a pill cost $10, the brothers received $2 and Rosario kept $8, the order said.
In 2017, the state charged Rakesh Inc., which held the liquor license, with a dozen violations of beverage regulations. The brothers were equal shareholders in the business, the state said.
The Patel brothers were admitted into a pretrial intervention program, according to the revocation order. They were barred from holding an alcoholic beverage license for two years.
The drug raid and busts caused a deep divide in Bellmawr, with emotions running high occasionally in clashes about the opioid crisis. For a while, protesters, many with loved ones who had died from opioid addiction, demonstrated for hours outside Johnnie's, seeking to shut it down.
The controversy landed before the Borough Council in June 2016, which voted to renew the store's liquor license for two years. Filipek said at the time that renewing the license was the best option available pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.