YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The arrests of more than 325 people in North Jersey were announced today as part of a joint anti-heroin initiative in Paterson spearheaded by Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli with his counterparts from Passaic and Morris counties.
Nearly 100 of those charged are alleged users and dealers from Bergen County. They come from all but a few of the county’s 70 municipalities.
Most of the rest are from Passaic (180) and Morris (40) counties, with the rest from Sussex, Hudson, Middlesex and New York State.
One was an Afghanistan war vet, another a dental hygienist and another a Philadelphia Phillies baseball prospect, Molinelli said.
Authorities seized 32 guns, $25,000 in U.S. currency, nearly 12,000 bags of heroin and 1,200 grams of raw powdered heroin — with a combined value of nearly a half-million dollars — in the eight-week operation, in which more than four dozen law enforcement agencies participated, he said.
The majority of arrests involve heroin possession, sometimes with the intent to sell the drug. But in some cases charges include eluding, child endangerment, destruction of evidence (for deliberately swallowing drugs), possession of stolen property and possession of other drugs, including crack and prescription drugs.
The endangerment charge was brought against a Haskell man who authorities said left his 2-year-old son home alone while he went to Paterson to buy drugs.
The task force also took down two Paterson heroin mills.
The goal: to attack what Molinelli said is an epidemic of opiate use in North Jersey. At the same time, authorities addressed the physical dangers inherent when suburban users venture into the urban center.
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SPECIAL REPORT: Besides announcing the arrests of hundreds of heroin users and dealers, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli today unveiled what he said are other initiatives that he considers just as vital to addressing the ongoing opiate epidemic. READ MORE….
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“The recipe for violence is present every day,” said Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes, who joined Molinelli, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp and dozens of area police chiefs at an afternoon news conference at Molinelli’s Paramus office.
“People travel into Paterson in high-end cars that obviously don’t belong,” Valdes said. As a result, she said, “the stage is set for violence.”
In fact, Molinelli said, more than four of every five users told authorities they’d been robbed while trying to buy drugs.
This year, the prosecutors said, 17 people have died of heroin overdoses in Bergen County, 20 in Passaic County (four of them from Bergen) and seven in Morris.
Molinelli said authorities are taking a “holistic” that combines enforcement, rehabilitation, and education to “proactively combat the current heroin epidemic facing our communities.”
“We recognize that recovering from a heroin addiction is a fail, win, fail, win process,” he said. “We have to take a much different approach….The last thing we want is for most of these users to be saddled with a criminal conviction.”
In other words: The arrests in many cases were more about forcing the hands of users.
Roughly 280 of them were arrested by members of the multi-jurisdictional drug task force who targeted the “open air” heroin markets in Paterson.
“In total, the task force identified and arrested over 40 heroin dealers and executed search warrants at several residences,” Molinelli said. “In addition to identifying the dealers of those arrested, task force officers presented those arrested with rehabilitation options.”
Knapp said the interdiction wouldn’t have been possible without the participation of local departments.
“It’s a stress and a strain on everyone, and we appreciate the commitment and resources each department has put forth,” he said.
“In Morris County, we have had 20 officers dedicated to this effort full-time,” Knapp said. “It’s been costly, but worth it.”
Molinelli, who headed a smaller sweep last year, earlier today released the names, ages, hometowns of those arrested, along with the charges, as part of the initiative ( CLICK HERE for: IDs, mugshots of those arrested ).
In a rare step for a lawman, the prosecutor has extended the services of his office, without criminal charges, to anyone whose children, siblings or spouse have drug problems.
At the same time, he has warned parents that that their children could be prosecuted for sharing a drug — even a single Oxycodone pill — that kills someone.
Molinelli has gotten the message out through a series of public talks and open letters financed with money forfeited by criminals.
“This will not be the last time we will do this,” he said today. “We will continue to do this forever.
“I don’t accept the statement the war on drugs is over and we lost it.”
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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