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Judge keeps defendant’s bail at $100,000 in Mahwah seizure of 13 pounds of pot, $22,000 cash

Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia

EXCLUSIVE: A Queens man tried become the second of four men who Mahwah police said they caught with more than 13 pounds of pot to be released, but a judge in Hackensack today refused to reduce his $100,000 bail.

Luis Vilela, 26, has “no real ties to New Jersey” and the investigation “is still ongoing,” Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian said in denying the bid.

The judge said he’s signed “several warrants” in connection with what he said appeared to be a major trafficking operation that moved drugs from the West Coast to New Jersey and New York.

It began when Mahwah Detectives Michael Grassi and Eric Larsen stopped a black Chevy Tahoe with New York license plates that swerved into westbound traffic on eastbound Lydia Lane, “nearly causing a collision with another vehicle,” on Jan. 30, Police Chief James N. Batelli said at the time.

The driver — identified as 26-year-old Dominic Berlingeri — told them he’d just moved to Mahwah from California and lived nearby with his brother and others, Batelli said.

Larsen searched the vehicle, with Berlingeri’s consent, while Grassi and Detective Lt. Guido Bussinelli and Detective Kevin Hebert other officers went to the Mahwah townhouse, where “individuals spoke to them through a glass window,” the chief said.

Detecting “an extremely strong odor of marijuana,” the detectives requested entry and were denied, so they forced their way in through the front door, the chief said.

They seized the pot, $22,000 in cash, paraphernalia and “other items consistent with the distribution of marijuana” and took three men inside into custody, Batelli said.

Charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute the drug within 1,000 feet of a school, as well as possession of drug paraphernalia and a hypodermic needle were Vilela, Vincent Berlingeri, 28, and Dominic Berlingeri, 26, both of Nyack; and Robert Southard, 29, of Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Vincent Berlingeri also was charged with destruction of evidence.

His brother, Dominick, posted $100,000 bail on Feb. 5 and was released from the Bergen County Jail.

The other two, like Vilella, remained held on the same amount.

Defense attorney Vincent Basile said he sought the bail reduction for Vilela to $75,000 because he didn’t live in the house and there was no proof tying him to the lease or to any legal residency there. A Queens native, he’d recently moved back east from California, the lawyer said.

“He was a guest in the house,” Basile said. “It wasn’t his domicile. No proof of his domicile has been given.”

The judge wasn’t impressed.

“Oh, he was just in the house — it’s not his house,” he said.

STORY / PHOTO: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia

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