Nine members of a drug and gun trafficking network led by Latin King gang members in Union and Middlesex counties have been charged with federal drug and weapons offenses.
The defendants are charged by complaint with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics, including fentanyl and cocaine, possession with intent to distribute narcotics, conspiracy to traffic firearms, including several privately made firearms (PMFs or “ghost guns”), and the unlawful possession of firearms.
“The charges we’re announcing today describe an illegal network that was actively distributing guns and drugs, including fentanyl and cocaine, around New Jersey,” U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger said. “In addition to bringing illegal weapons into New Jersey from other states, these defendants are charged with manufacturing untraceable gun parts that could be used to convert weapons for automatic firing. Thanks to the excellent work of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we’ve dealt a substantial blow to this criminal operation.”
“ATF has a zero-tolerance policy for those engaged in firearms-related violence, violent drug gangs, and those who facilitate the illegal manufacturing and trafficking of firearms,” Acting Special Agent in Charge of ATF Bryan Miller said. “We are committed to doing the necessary work to protect our neighborhoods from criminals who jeopardize the public’s safety and lessen the quality of life in our communities. This investigation demonstrates ATF’s dedication to working with our local, state, and federal partners in identifying and incarcerating violent offenders who threaten the peace that our neighborhoods so deserve.”
“The arrest of these defendants and the seizure of drugs and guns has made our community safer,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New Jersey Division Daniel J. Kafafian. “This network was pushing deadly fentanyl and cocaine, and there is no doubt the weapons being produced and seized would have led to violence and misery. This is another example of law enforcement partners at all levels working towards the common goal of protecting the citizens of New Jersey.”
According to the complaint, the defendants below are members and associates of the Latin Kings street gang:
- Justin Aponte, 28, of Elizabeth, New Jersey;
- Victor Barrios, 28, of Bayonne, New Jersey;
- Jose Fontanez, 28, of Carteret, New Jersey;
- Jonathan Lakomy, 32, of Ringwood, New Jersey;
- Christian Rodriguez, 32, of Chesterfield, Virginia;
- Jeziel Romero, 27, of Old Bridge, New Jersey;
- Christopher Soto, 30, of Matawan, New Jersey;
- Angel Valentin, 34, of Carteret, and
- Ian Wooten, 30, of Carteret.
All New Jersey resident defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court. Rodriguez appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark R. Colombell, in Richmond, Virginia, federal court. Soto remains at large.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Beginning in May 2022, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, began investigating a drug and firearms trafficking network that included Aponte, Barrios, Fontanez, Lakomy, Rodriguez, Romero, Valentin and Wooten.
Many members of the trafficking network were members or associates of the Almighty Latin Kings & Queens Nation, commonly known as the “Latin Kings.” The trafficking network operated largely in neighborhoods in Elizabeth and Carteret, New Jersey.
Law enforcement officers identified members of the trafficking network who were responsible for the distribution of controlled substances, including substantial quantities of fentanyl and cocaine, from residences in Elizabeth and Carteret and elsewhere.
Investigators were able to collect evidence that Lakomy supplied fentanyl to Aponte, who in turn provided the drugs to other members of the trafficking network for redistribution. Fontanez, Romero, Valentin, and Wooten were identified as responsible for street-level distribution of the fentanyl and cocaine.
Aponte, Barrios, Rodriguez and Wooten conspired to illegally traffic firearms, including traditional firearms and PMFs. In November 2022, investigators determined that Aponte and Barrios were working to produce PMFs at Barrios’ residence. A search warrant executed at that time resulted in the seizure of:
- One Glock-26-style PMF 9x19mm semi-auto handgun;
- one .40 caliber S&W handgun with a Polymer-80 frame with a slide from a Glock model 22 handgun;
- 21 rounds of 5.56 caliber ammunition;
- 45 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition;
- 13 partially manufactured firearms;
- two 3D printers; and
- 3D printing materials.
When law enforcement agents entered Barrios’ residence, they observed that the two 3D printers were in the process of manufacturing PMFs.
Investigators also determined that Aponte was conspiring with Rodriguez to traffic firearms from Virginia to New Jersey. In one meeting between Aponte, Rodriguez, and an undercover law enforcement agent at a location in Virginia, Rodriguez agreed to sell several firearms to Aponte. Subsequently, Aponte told the undercover agent that the firearms were ready to be transported from Rodriguez to Aponte and then sold to the agent.
From May 2022 to December 2022, law enforcement officers seized more than 15,000 individual doses of fentanyl, approximately 14 grams of cocaine base, 26 firearms including 24 PMFs,and three machine gun conversion devices, which are parts designed to convert a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic machinegun.
In addition, during the course of lawful searches conducted by law enforcement on January 4, 2023, law enforcement recovered:
- four firearms, including one FIE Titan .25 caliber semiautomatic handgun and three PMFs consistent with those seized by law enforcement during the investigation from Soto’s residence;
- 3,500 individual doses of suspected fentanyl, a separate 125 grams of suspected powdered fentanyl, and narcotics packaging materials from Lakomy’s residence; and
- 5,000 individual doses of suspected fentanyl, two firearms, including a Springfield model XD 9mm semiautomatic handgun, and a Smith & Wesson model SD40 VE .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun, and six Glock-brand firearm slides consistent with those used by members of the conspiracy to manufacture PMFs, and 100 bricks of suspected fentanyl from Wooten’s residence.
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