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Two local men face significant jail time for their roles in alleged drug and gun trafficking network

Two local men – part of an alleged drug and gun trafficking network led by Latin King gang members in Union and Middlesex Counties – could face significant jail time for their roles, according to U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger.

Jeziel Romero, 27, of Old Bridge, and Christopher Soto, 30, of Matawan, are two of nine men who were 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, according to a press release through the United States Attorney District of New Jersey on Jan. 5.

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, according to a press release through the United States Attorney District of New Jersey on Jan. 5.

“The charges we’re announcing today describe an illegal network that was actively distributing guns and drugs, including fentanyl and cocaine, around New Jersey,” 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.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (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,” according to ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryan Miller.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Daniel J. Kafafian, acting special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said the arrests and the seizure of drugs and guns has made the community safer.

“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,” he said. “This is another example of law enforcement partners at all levels working towards the common goal of protecting the citizens of New Jersey.”

All New Jersey resident defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Beginning in May 2022, ATF and DEA, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, began investigating a drug and firearms trafficking network. 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.

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.

A search warrant executed at one of the defendant’s residences in Bayonne during the investigation 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.
• 3D printing materials.

When law enforcement agents entered the residence, they observed that the two 3D printers were in the process of manufacturing PMFs. Investigators determined two of the members were conspiring to traffic firearms from Virginia to New Jersey.

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 machine gun.

In addition, during the course of lawful searches conducted by law enforcement on Jan. 4, 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 a residence in Ringwood; 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 a residence in Carteret.

Romero faces life in prison for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and Soto faces 15 years in prison for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to the press release.

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