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Fourth defendant in drug trial says prosecutors can’t prove he knew Ecstasy was in bag

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

EXCLUSIVE: Did a Jersey City man know that a bag in an SUV chased and stopped by Bergen County detectives contained nearly 1½ pound of powdered MDMA? That’s the central question in a drug trial that began yesterday in Hackensack.

The last of four men to be prosecuted in the case, 36-year-old Antonio Acosta Aquino doesn’t deny being in the car when an Oct. 6 undercover deal went sideways and the vehicle was chased from Fort Lee to 52nd Street in Union City, where police boxed it in.

Inside was a large blue bag that contained “a substantial amount, between 600 and 800 grams, almost a pound and a half” of Ecstasy, Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor James V. Santulli told jurors during today’s openings.

Aquino didn’t have the bag, nor was he driving his wife’s SUV, Santulli said.

Antonio Acosta Aquino (PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

However, he said that Aquino is still guilty of possession under state law.

Defense attorney James Lisa insisted that Santulli must prove that his client “knowingly or purposely” controlled the drugs.

Lisa said detectives never spoke to Acosta Aquino, although they may have seen him on the street “where he lives.” He also said they originally accused the crew of having heroin, not MDMA.

If Santulli “can’t firmly convince you my client knew what was in the bag,” the lawyer told jurors, Aquino “has to be acquitted.”

Three other co-defendants in the case accepted plea deals and are awaiting sentencing.

Most prominent is point man Jose B. Rodriguez of Union City (aka: Apolinar A. Perez), who is set to be sentenced a week from today — and is expected to testify against Aquino.

Then there’s co-defendant Cesar Soriano, also of Jersey City, who is due to be sentenced today.

The final co-defendant, Manuel C. Calderin (aka: Manuel Cobas) of Union City is scheduled for sentencing April 25.

Santulli said the four “were all greedy, all drug dealers, and … all involved.”

Soriano’s role was to provide the drugs, the prosecutor said. Calderin and Acosta Aquino each expected to get a cut of $50,000 for the heroin, for which the group substituted Ecstasy, Santulli said.

A pair of detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office portrayed a boyfriend and girlfriend who were buying the drugs. But the deal went sour, and the chase followed.

The trial continues next week.

STORY  / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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