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Saddle Brook police probe sparks takedown of $1.5M cargo theft ring

Photo Credit: Courtesy NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL
Photo Credit: NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Investigative work by a patrol officer and detective from Saddle Brook led to the takedown of a 12-member cargo theft ring that state authorities today said stole $1.5 million worth of clothing, beauty products, auto parts and beer after swiping tractor trailers transporting the goods.

Saddle Brook Police Officer Guiseppe Califano got the initial tip in June 2012 about a Midland Avenue warehouse owned by 61-year-old Kenneth Manus of Norwood ( photo, above ), who consented to a search during a subsequent investigation by Detective Lt. Thomas Johnson, Police Chief Robert Kugler told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Kenneth Manus (Courtesy: NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL)

Inside the warehouse police found $120,000 worth of Corning catalytic converters stolen out of Linden on June 20, 2012 and cases of Guinness stout worth more than $23,000 stolen out of Easton, Pa. on June 22, 2012, he said.

The tractor-trailer stolen with the beer was recovered in Passaic and the one with the catalytic converters in Paterson, the chief said.

Johnson arrested two Hudson County men — Wilson Ferrer-Reyes, 51, of Union City and Horacio Llerena-Martinez, 55, of North Bergen — and turned everything over to the New Jersey State Police Cargo Theft Unit.

Thus was born “Operation Midnight Run” and the discovery of a widespread operation that peddled stolen goods in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

Manus “fenced goods stolen by the ring, buying them himself or finding a buyer,” acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman said today in announcing an indictment returned in Trenton naming Manus and 11 others.

Ring members rented space at a furniture store on Route 22 in Hillside, where they sold some of the stolen goods, the indictment alleges.

In addition to GNC fish oil supplements, which were stolen out of Paterson on May 28, 2013, investigators who raided the Hillside location also found:

•more than $77,000 worth of Bell bicycle parts stolen in Paterson on May 28, 2013;

•$65,000 worth of bedding that was part of a trailer-load of $88,000 in bedding stolen in South Plainfield on June 14, 2013;

•more than $9,000 worth of Little Hug juices stolen in Passaic.

The tractor-trailers stolen with the fish oil and bedding were recovered in Newark, the one with the juices in Kearny and the one with the bike parts in Jersey City, Hoffman said.

The long-term investigation involved the New Jersey State Police Interstate Theft North Unit, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Border Enforcement Security Task Force.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, in turn, obtained an 11-count state grand jury indictment that charges all 12 defendants with first-degree conspiracy. Eleven also are charged with first-degree money laundering, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, second-degree fencing, second-degree receiving stolen property, and third-degree burglary.

A judge in Trenton assigned the case to be heard in Hackensack.

According to the indictment, ring members worked together in various combinations to steal tractor-trailers containing cargo from the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. All together, they committed nine thefts and two purchases of stolen goods between June 2012 and April 2015, it says.

“The stolen cargo ran the gamut from $120,000 worth of catalytic converters, which allegedly were stolen in Linden, and recovered by investigators at a warehouse in Saddle Brook; to $165,000 worth of Moroccanoil hair and body products stolen in Allentown, Pa., and transported through New Jersey to a lot in the Bronx; to $152,000 worth of GNC fish oil capsules stolen in Paterson and recovered at a furniture store in Hillside,” Hoffman said.

“Their conspiracy did not stop at our state borders, and neither did our investigation, thanks to our partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” he said. “We tracked these alleged thieves across three states and hundreds of miles of highway to ensure that they were held accountable for the full scope of their crimes.”

“Organized criminal syndicates are drawn to cargo theft because of the huge illicit profits that can be generated,” added Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Working with the New Jersey State Police and our federal partners, we are aggressively investigating and prosecuting this underworld activity, which disrupts commerce, inflicts big financial losses, and frequently finances other crimes.”

“Truckloads of cargo have always been a lucrative target for organized criminal groups. Our Interstate Theft Unit, along with our partners in Operation Midnight Run, are glad to have taken this group off the road and recovered large quantities of stolen goods,” said NJSP Supt. Col. Rick Fuentes.

“This case is an excellent example of how teamwork among state, local and federal agencies can disrupt these types of large-scale criminal activities and ensure that those involved are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Newark.

In addition to Manus, Ferrer-Reyes, Llerena-Martinez, the indictment names:

Yoanny Justiz, 32, of North Bergen Luis Requena, 24, who was deported after his arrest in 2013 Marvin Quezada, 40, of Union City Pedro Arias, 68, of Elizabeth Osmay Perez-Herrera, 51, of New York Hector Rivas, 38, of Union City Angel Dominguez, 44, of Union City Carlos Toriac-Almira, 36, of Union City Luis Marin, 46, of Union City

According to a release from Hoffman:

Osmay Perez-Herrera, who uses the name “Omar,” is co-owner of the Mi Pais Supermarket on St. Nicholas Avenue in New York. Investigators conducted two sting operations in which goods that were purportedly stolen allegedly were sold to Perez-Herrera for resale at various locations, including at the store. The “stolen” goods consisted of $80,000 worth of perfume and 330 counterfeit North Face jackets. Martinez participated in the sale of the jackets to Perrez-Herrera and collected part of the proceeds. Martinez and Perez-Herrera are charged with third-degree counterfeiting in connection with the jackets.

The defendants, acting as theft crews in various combinations, also allegedly stole:

•a tractor-trailer containing approximately $201,000 worth of clothing, which was stolen in Elizabeth, , on March 12, 2015 and transported to a lot in Brooklyn.a tractor-trailer containing more than $143,000 worth of Nivea skin lotion, which was stolen in Easton, Pa., on Sept. 25, 2013 and transported to a lot in the Bronx;

•a tractor-trailer containing more than $151,000 worth of Goodyear tires stolen on April 7, 2015 from Grantville, Pa., which Dominguez and Marin were transporting through New Jersey when they were stopped by investigators in Readington and arrested;

•a tractor-trailer containing $100,000 worth of mozzarella cheese stolen on Sept. 27, 2013 from a warehouse in Sayreville.

Arias was arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike after he and other defendants allegedly stole the cheese from the warehouse. It is alleged that he initially refused to stop the truck for police and subsequently tried to flee on foot.

Quezada, Requena and Justiz were riding in a car immediately in front of Arias and also were arrested.

Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad, Senior Counsel for the Specialized Crime Bureau and Deputy Attorney General Danielle Scarduzio presented the case to the state grand jury and were assigned to the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice.

Hoffman commended the New Jersey State Police Interstate Theft North Unit and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Border Enforcement Security Task Force for their work on the case. The lead detectives for the State Police Interstate Theft North Unit were Lt. Ron Micucci. Detective Sgt. 1st Class Jafca Mandziuk, Detective Sgt. Christopher Muscianesi, Detective Sgt. Felix Bermudez, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Hsu and Detective Cory Rodriguez.

McMANUS PHOTO: Courtesy NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL

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