FREEHOLD – A yearlong investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics and Criminal Enterprise Unit targeting a large-scale marijuana and THC distribution network resulted in charges being filed against 24 men and women, the Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced on Jan. 7.
The network operated throughout Monmouth, Ocean and Bergen counties, as well as parts of New York, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation on the Ropes,” uncovered a scheme to convert legitimate candies to an illegal THC-infused product. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the substance that creates most of marijuana’s “high.”
Operation on the Ropes culminated with the execution of more than one dozen search warrants in Monmouth, Ocean and Bergen counties, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The search warrants resulted in the seizure of approximately 21,000 pieces of candy infused with suspected THC; 1,100 pounds of suspected marijuana; and more than 6,000 flavored THC vape cartridges, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The street value was estimated at $1.9 million, according to the prosecutor’s office.
“The network operators used regular candy to further their scheme, buying hundreds of boxes of product from wholesalers before transporting it to a processing facility where they would unwrap the individual pieces of candy, lay it out on trays and then spraying the candy with a concentrated formula of THC distillate. Once the THC dried on the candy it was repackaged as an illegal marijuana edibles product for distribution across New Jersey,” Gramiccioni said.
The illegal operation utilized a warehouse on Park Avenue in Manalapan Township and a hangar at Monmouth Executive Airport in Wall Township as production and storage facilities, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The approximate 21,000 pieces of candy were manufactured with unknown amounts of THC and totals more than 100,000 individual doses, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The THC products that were processed were then intermingled with THC products that the network operators illegally trafficked into New Jersey from a supplier in California, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The THC products have an estimated street value of nearly $900,000, according to the prosecutor’s office.
“The packaging on this THC laced ‘candy’ is almost indistinguishable from regular drug store candy. Your kids may be getting high right before your eyes, if you are not paying close attention. This illegal operation makes juveniles and anyone who consumes these products susceptible to random levels of drug toxicity,” said John G. McCabe, Monmouth County Chief of Detectives.
Also seized were machines and paraphernalia used to repackage and repurpose the legitimate candies as marijuana-related edible products.
The investigation did not reveal use of the airport to transport any of the illegal drugs to other areas inside or outside of New Jersey, according to the prosecutor’s office.
“The operation used their own wrappers and labels to repackage the drug-infused candy. There were no sanitary measures taken, no safety apparatus, and there were certainly were no standards in place to ensure the product was not contaminated,” said Middletown Township Police Chief Craig Weber, President of the Monmouth County Chiefs Association.
“Consumers of these products had no way of knowing exactly what they were ingesting,” Weber said.
A total of $10,151,711 in assets, $1,483,859 in cash, and 21 high-end exotic vehicles, including cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Mercedes Benz, with an estimated total value of approximately $2,783,445, were also seized as part of the criminal investigation, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Arrested and charged in this operation are as follows: Dylon J. Addvensky, 27, Freehold Borough; Eric L. Karlewicz, also known as Anthony Mazza, 40, Colts Neck; Nicco C. Romanowski, 27, Freehold Township; Anthony Dalessandro, 30, California; Ariel Baez, 45, Lodi; Matthew R. Caracappa, 24, Freehold Township; Lawrence A. Cella, 28, Jackson; Richard C. Chamas, 43, Jackson; Lee D’Avanzo, 52, Staten Island, New York; Nicholas A. D’Ambrosio, 28, Manalapan; Alfonse D’Ambrosio, 26, Howell.
Also, Angelynn J. Fesco, Colts Neck; Matthew V. Filosa, 28, Freehold Borough; Paul G. Hobbs, 27, Jackson; Ryan D. Hult, 39, Morris County; Jason M. Lambros, 21, Point Pleasant Beach; Joseph A. Mari, 28, Camden County; Gianna P. Mazzone, 23, Egg Harbor Township; John. T. Page, 25, Gloucester County; Hannah R. Olstein, 25, Freehold Township; Daniel J. Riley, 25, Brick; Kevin M. Shields, 31, Jackson; Alexa L. Stimpfel, 27, Freehold Borough; and Matthew C. Tracy, 27, Jackson.
Dalessandro remains at-large.