Narcotics "Boutique" Guarded by Pitbulls Raided PDF Print E-mail

Newark - A narcotics trafficking boutique, guarded by pitbulls and operating in the shadow of the Basilica Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, was shut down last night and seven suspects were arrested by Essex County sheriff's detectives. A large quantity of drugs and two automatic handguns were also seized as a result of the arrests.

Sheriff Armando Fontoura stated that as sheriff's detectives attempted to execute a non-support warrant at 246 Clifton Avenue on Thursday night they spotted a high-powered exhaust fan running through an open window in a third floor front room at that location

"Situations like this are often a sure sign of a drug manufacturing and distribution operation," Sheriff Fontoura noted. "Given the frigid temperatures last night the open window with the running exhaust fan was doubly suspicious."

As the sheriff's officers surrounded the house to investigate, a suspect looked from the window, saw the officers and yelled into the room.

Two suspects, Omar Gonzalez, age 30, and his brother, Michael Gonzalez, age 19, bolted from the rear of the residence. As they attempted to flee from the scene, they tossed a green knapsack to the ground.

Following a brief foot pursuit, the Gonzalez brothers were apprended on Ridge Street near Bloomfield Avenue. The knapsack was found to contain a large amount of marijuana.

As other sheriff's detectives entered the Clifton Avenue residence, they heard individuals running and they were also confronted by eight pitbulls who stood guard in various locations throughout the house.

The Newark police Emergency Services Unit and the Associated Humane Society were called to the scene to remove the dogs as the sheriff's officers began seaching the premises.

In the 3rd floor room with the open window and the fan, a complete drug processing plant was discovered. A .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun and a 9mm Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun, both fully loaded with illegal hollow point bullets, were found on a work table that also included an automated money-counting machine, binoculars, digital scales, cutting tools, plastic ziplock bags, other drug paraphernalia and the car keys to a late model Lexus automobile. Three more backpacks, filled with marijuana and packaged for street distribution, and 100 Ecstasy tablets were found on the table, along with a New Jersey identification card issued to Michael Salcedo.

With the pitbulls now removed from the residence, the sheriff's detectives searched the rest of the building.

Cristal Vasquez, age 19, and Sandra Almodovar, age 37, were taken in custody after fleeing into the second floor apartment in an attempt to hide from the officers.

When building resident Elizabeth Rivera, age 22, opened the door to her first floor apartment the sheriff's officers detected the strong odor of marijuana. A 5th knapsack, filled with marijuana, was discovered in plain view in the apartment and she was arrested.

Michael Salcedo, age 23, and Richard Miranda, age 21, were found in the basement. The two suspects were also placed under arrest.

"The narcotics processing plant was a true drug boutique that was capable of handling and distributing a wide variety of narcotics," Sheriff Fontoura observed. "Apparently, our officers got there just before the weekend delivery of cocaine. Even so, the nearly 5 pounds of marijuana and the Ecstasy pills seized during this operation were worth in excess of $12,000 on the street."

When the sheriff's detectives used the car keys to open a 2008 Lexus sedan that was double-parked in front of the house Jahaida Figueroa, age 19, appeared on the scene and advised the officers that the car belonged to her. A criminal background check of Figueroa revealed that she was the subject of an outstanding drug warrant and motor vehicle issued by the Scotch Plains municipal court and she was also arrested. Her bail is $700.

The Gonzalez brothers, Vasquez, Almodovar, Rivera, Salcedo and Miranda, all Newark residents, were charged with two counts each of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of CDS with intent to distribute, possession of CDS with intent to distribute within 1000 feet of Barringer High School and possession of CDS with intent to distribute within 500 feet of the Branch Brook library. All of the suspects were also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and conspiracy to violate New Jersey's narcotics laws.

Omar and Michael Gonzalez, Vasquez, Almodovar and Salcedo were charged with two counts of possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes and possession of a weapon while committing a CDS crime. The five suspects were also charged with possession of illegal hollow point bullets.

Salcedo and Omar Gonzalez were charged with two counts of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and the Gonzalez brothers were charged with resisting arrest.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Wiggler set bail on Omar Gonzalez and Salcedo at $150,000 cash bond only. Michael Gonzalez, Vasquez and Almodovar are being held at the county jail on $75,000 cash bond only. The bail for Rivera and Miranda was set at $50,000 cash bond only.

The suspects will be arraigned in central Judicial Processing Court on Monday.