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New Jersey Drug Threat Assessment
May 2001


Cocaine, particularly crack, poses the most serious drug threat to New Jersey, as street-level cocaine distribution and use often lead to violence. Powdered cocaine and crack are readily available throughout the state. About 40 percent of all treatment admissions in New Jersey in 1997 were cocaine-related, although cocaine was usually reported as a secondary rather than the primary drug used. Newark had over 3,500 cocaine treatment admissions in 1998. Colombian DTOs are the dominant cocaine suppliers for New Jersey-based criminal groups. Colombian DTOs and Dominican criminal groups control most of the wholesale distribution of cocaine in New Jersey, depending on the area. African American criminal groups, particularly in southern New Jersey, and Dominican criminal groups throughout the state are the dominant retail distributors.


The number of cocaine users in Newark, calculated by ED mentions, is high but stable. Newark was third in the nation in 1991 with 241 ED mentions per 100,000, after New Orleans and Baltimore, and sixth in the nation with 208 ED mentions per 100,000 by 1998. Newark ranked lower in 1998 than in 1991 because the number of ED mentions per 100,000 increased dramatically in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta in 1998. According to DAWN, Newark was one of nine cities with a high percentage (more than 20%) of cocaine ED mentions, and medical examiner (ME) data identified 144 cocaine-related deaths in 1999 in Newark alone. Table 2 shows the change in Newark cocaine ED mentions and mentions per 100,000 from 1991 to 1998, according to DAWN.

Table 2. Cocaine Emergency Department Mentions and Mentions Per 100,000, Newark, 1991-1998

1991* 1995 1996 1997 1998
Cocaine Mentions 4,016 4,658 4,436 3,571 3,743
Mentions per 100,000 241 268 253 201 208
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Drug Abuse Warning Network, Year End Emergency Department Data, 1998.
*The year 1991 is used for historical purposes only.

African American males who smoke crack and are over the age of 26 are the primary cocaine abusers in New Jersey. African American men accounted for 52 percent of admissions for cocaine; Caucasian men, 37 percent; and Hispanic men, 10 percent. Men represented 63 percent of all admissions in the state. Sixty-seven percent of abusers who reported cocaine as the primary substance of abuse smoked the drug, while the rest snorted it. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans, 59 percent of Caucasians, and 45 percent of Hispanics admitted for treatment in New Jersey reported smoking crack. According to the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG), calculations using New Jersey 1999 cocaine ED mentions and treatment admissions suggest an aging user population; over 90 percent of all cocaine users were over the age of 26.

In 1991 and 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed over 15,000 students in grades 9 through 12 and reported a significant increase during that period in the number of students reporting having used cocaine in the month prior and at least once in their lifetime. About 4 percent of the students surveyed in 1999 reported they used cocaine at least once in the month prior, compared with 2 percent in 1991. Almost 9 percent of students surveyed in 1999 said they tried cocaine in their lifetime, compared with only 6 percent in 1991.

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Cocaine continues to be readily available throughout most of New Jersey. About 43 percent of all federal drug sentences in New Jersey in 1999 were related to powdered and crack cocaine. According to the Federal-wide Drug Seizure Statistics (FDSS), law enforcement officers in New Jersey seized more kilograms of cocaine than any other illicit drug except marijuana between fiscal year (FY) 1995 and FY1999. (See Table 3.) Over 38 percent--12,544 of 32,741 kilograms--of all drugs seized under the FDSS were cocaine. The amount of cocaine seized between FY1995 and FY1999 peaked in FY1997 and has decreased substantially since that time. DEA offices in Atlantic City and Newark report that cocaine remains readily available.

Table 3. Drug Seizures, in Kilograms, New Jersey, FY1995-FY1999

Type 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Sum Percentage
Heroin 33 58 97 87 57 331 1.01
Cocaine 1,595 3,149 4,071 1,799 1,930 12,544 38.31
Marijuana 2,207 11,401 953 1,813 3,299 19,672 60.08
Methamphetamine     1 3 1 5 0.02
Hashish 3 2 179 4 1 189 0.58
TOTAL           32,741 100.00

Source: Federal-wide Drug Seizure Statistics, FY1995-FY1999.

Cocaine Smuggled in Produce

The U.S. Customs Service (USCS) seized 564 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a Ryder truck transporting chili peppers and tamale leaves. Smugglers sprinkled the cocaine-filled boxes with garlic powder to try to thwart detection by canines. In May 1999, DEA and USCS seized 100 kilograms of cocaine hidden under 40,000 pounds of bananas at the Port of Newark in two refrigerated containers.

Source: New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area FY 2001 Threat Assessment.

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Cocaine prices in New Jersey vary depending on the location and amount of the sale; however, low, stable prices indicate that there is an abundant supply of cocaine in New Jersey. (See Table 4.) Price differences between northern (all counties above and including Monmouth) and southern (all counties below Monmouth County) New Jersey indicate two distinct drug markets in the state. Powdered cocaine costs slightly more in southern New Jersey, while crack costs more in northern New Jersey. DEA reported that cocaine prices decreased slightly in 2000, and are similar to 1998 prices. However, according to the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN) Regional Drug Price and Purity Report, powdered cocaine prices increased slightly from August 1997 to September 1999.

Table 4. Cocaine Prices (in Dollars), Northern and Southern New Jersey, 2000

Weight Northern New Jersey Southern New Jersey

Powdered Cocaine

Kilogram 22,000-30,000 27,000-30,000
Pound  7,000-20,000  9,000-15,000
Ounce   900-1,220   850-1,200
Eight Ball (1/8 ounce)  80-200 100-300
Gram 27-75  36-120
Bag  5-30 10-60

Crack Cocaine

Kilogram 18,000-35,000 18,000-30,000
Pound 10,000-20,000 10,000-15,000
Ounce   600-1,800   800-1,200
Eight Ball (1/8 ounce) 100-250 100-240
Gram 16-45 27-40
Bag  5-50  5-20

 Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, Newark Field Division, Trends in the Traffic 4th Quarter FY2000.

Although cutting agents are used at various distribution levels, the high purity of powdered cocaine and crack in New Jersey indicates that cocaine is not being cut as much as it was in the past. Purity for powdered cocaine ranged from 30 to 90 percent in 1999, while crack was 35 to 97 percent pure at all distribution levels. DTOs often break kilogram quantities down into ounce or gram quantities before selling to midlevel or street-level distributors. The street-level distributors add diluents such as talcum powder and lactose, decreasing purity but creating more product, resulting in increased profits. Other distributors then purchase the powdered cocaine and add additional diluents, which reduces the purity even further.

The number of powdered cocaine and crack investigations varies according to area, but supports the conclusion that cocaine is readily available. The Warren County Prosecutor's Office reportedly conducted 40 powdered cocaine investigations in 1999, similar to the number in 1998, and 20 crack investigations, less than in 1998. The Essex County Sheriff's Office initiated 348 powdered cocaine investigations in 1999, an increase over 1998 numbers, and 15 crack investigations, a decrease from 1998 numbers.

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Cocaine distributors use criminal alliances and violence to further their drug trade. DEA reports that street-level crack distribution and use often lead to violence. Distributors often commit drive-by shootings, drug-related homicides, rip-offs (stealing drugs from other distributors), and are involved in turf wars. Trenton police officials responding to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000 reported that gangs such as the Latin Kings distribute cocaine and commit assaults. The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office reported that gangs such as the Latin Kings and Queens, Bloods, and Ņetas, and the cultural group Five Percenters distribute cocaine and often commit assaults and homicides. The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office reported that the Latin Kings and Ņetas distribute cocaine and commit assaults, robberies, and homicides. The Warren County Prosecutor's Office reported that a large percentage of individuals arrested for burglary, theft, armed robbery, assault, murder, and other criminal activity abused or distributed cocaine. According to the Camden County Sheriff's Office, 40 percent of all homicides in Camden County are linked to drugs, while the national average is only 8 percent.

Dominican, African American, Jamaican, and to a lesser extent, other Hispanic criminal groups account for most drug-related homicides in New Jersey. Dominican criminal groups have a long history of violence against rival drug factions and each other, retaliating to protect their merchandise and markets. Dominican criminal groups generally avoid open confrontations with law enforcement officials in order to maintain a low profile, but will retaliate when necessary.



Coca is not cultivated nor is cocaine produced in New Jersey. Most cocaine consumed in the world is produced in South America. Most cocaine shipped into the United States comes through the Mexico-Central America Corridor, but an increasing percentage is smuggled through the Caribbean Corridor. Colombian DTOs produce most of the cocaine smuggled to New Jersey, accounting for as much as 85 percent of the cocaine in the New York and New Jersey region.

Most of the crack sold in New Jersey is converted from powder in the state, including the cocaine that is transported from distribution centers in Miami, New York City, and Philadelphia. However, some powdered cocaine is converted to crack at distribution centers before it is smuggled to New Jersey. Several Warren County street gangs transport powdered cocaine from New York and Pennsylvania and convert it locally. New Jersey-based distributors purchase powdered cocaine in pound and kilogram quantities from suppliers in Miami, New York City, and Philadelphia and process it into crack once back in New Jersey. In response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2000, the Warren County Prosecutor's Office reported that New York City- and Philadelphia- based distributors convert powdered cocaine to crack for sale, some of which is transported to New Jersey.

Converting Powdered Cocaine to Crack

Powdered cocaine is dissolved in water, mixed with baking soda, and heated. The mixture is then rotated as it heats, which allows the cocaine to precipitate and coalesce into a soft mass. The solution is poured into a container, the mass is dried, and it is then divided into different sizes of "rocks" for distribution.

Source: Miller, Gary J., Drugs and the Law, Gould Publications Inc., 1992.

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New Jersey is a major cocaine transportation hub. Although most of the cocaine in the state is shipped directly to New Jersey from Colombia, some of it is transshipped through New York and Philadelphia. Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Mexican criminal groups, among others, are dominant transporters of cocaine to New Jersey. Dominican criminal groups smuggling cocaine from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan have easy access in and out of New York using the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York to New Jersey via Interstate 95. Although Dominican transportation groups are more prevalent in Washington Heights than in New Jersey, these groups actively transport cocaine to New Jersey. Colombian and Dominican criminal groups sometimes use Puerto Rican criminal groups to smuggle cocaine through Puerto Rico to Camden County. Criminal groups using the Walt Whitman and Benjamin Franklin bridges, which connect Camden with Philadelphia, transport cocaine transshipped through Philadelphia to New Jersey.

Colombian, other Caribbean, and Jamaican criminal groups and several street gangs also transport powdered cocaine and crack to New Jersey, but to a lesser extent than the groups previously mentioned. In response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2000, the Warren County Prosecutor's Office reported that Caribbean and Jamaican criminal groups, as well as local and statewide gangs, transport crack from Philadelphia and New York City, some of which is transshipped through Newark to Warren County. OMGs, as well as the Bloods, Crips, Cash Money Boys, and Haitian Mafia street gangs transport powdered cocaine to Warren County.

One of the Largest Drug Busts in New Jersey History

New Jersey State Police seized 850 kilograms of cocaine and 863 kilograms of marijuana with an estimated street value of $100 million inside a tractor-trailer carrying cartons of moldy yellow peppers. The bust occurred in February 2000 at the Vince Lombardi service area in Bergen County on the New Jersey Turnpike. Police arrested four men and a woman from New York and an Arizona man for possession and conspiracy to distribute. They also seized $86,000 in cash and a 9-mm handgun. The amount seized was greater than the total amount seized in 1999 on New Jersey roadways.

Source: New Jersey State Police, News Release, 8 February 2000.

Tractor-trailers, aircraft, and maritime vessels are the preferred means of transporting large shipments of cocaine to the state, according to the DEA Newark Resident Office. Approximately 99 percent of the cocaine seized nationally in commercial vehicles from January 1, 2000, to April 30, 2000, was destined for New York or New Jersey, and most of those seizures occurred on Interstates 95, 78, and 80. Couriers, with cocaine concealed in their luggage, board airplanes and fly from source countries such as Colombia en route to Philadelphia International Airport and Newark International Airport to supply New Jersey markets. Cocaine transporters sometimes travel by bus on major interstates from the Southwest Border area to New Jersey. Mexican nationals transport some Colombian cocaine to New Jersey in tractor-trailers hauling large items that are difficult to inspect. Cocaine is also shipped by rail or through express mail services.

Cocaine Pipeline from the Southwest to New Jersey Shut Down

In June 2000, police arrested seven members of a Colombia-based DTO in Elizabeth and seized from a city warehouse approximately 400 kilograms of cocaine worth $14 million on the street. Police also seized $700,000 in suspected drug proceeds. A task force headed by DEA Newark followed a tractor-trailer that contained 16 boxes of cocaine hidden among the legitimate cargo of horse feed, which was destined for New Jersey. The cocaine was to be transferred to two sport utility vehicles inside the warehouse. The two distributors met in Houston and traveled to Los Angeles in a tractor-trailer where they picked up the cocaine and the legitimate cargo.

Sources: Asbury Park Press, 5 June 2000.

The USCS seizes more cocaine in New Jersey from commercial vessels than commercial aircraft, although both yield significant amounts. USCS seized more than 7,012 kilograms of cocaine in New Jersey smuggled aboard commercial maritime vessels between 1995 and 1999 as compared with 760 kilograms of cocaine smuggled on commercial aircraft. Law enforcement officers made 210 seizures at Newark International Airport compared with 68 seizures at the Newark-Elizabeth seaport during the same period. Most cocaine seizures on maritime vessels averaged 200 to 300 kilograms, while seizures on commercial aircraft typically averaged 1 to 2 kilograms. For example, law enforcement officers stationed at Petty's Island in Pennsauken, New Jersey, seized 2,190 kilograms of cocaine from a vessel originating in Venezuela in 1994, and 244.5 kilograms of cocaine from a vessel that sailed from San Juan in January 1996. The amount of cocaine seized at Newark International Airport increased from 40 kilograms in 1995 to between 100 and 300 kilograms each subsequent year, indicating that DTOs increasingly are using the airport to smuggle cocaine.

The Newark and Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal

The Port of New York has eight marine terminals located around the harbor; however, 90 percent of the containerized cargo arriving at the port is handled at the Newark and Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal.

Source: New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area FY1999 Threat Assessment.

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Colombian DTOs are the dominant cocaine suppliers for New Jersey-based criminal groups. Colombian DTOs and Dominican criminal groups control most of the wholesale distribution of cocaine in New Jersey, depending on the area. Colombian criminal groups living in northern New Jersey, especially Hudson and Passaic Counties, and Queens, New York, control distribution networks offering multikilograms of cocaine in the surrounding areas.

Criminal groups selling cocaine at the wholesale level use Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Paterson, Trenton, and Camden as distribution centers for smaller cities in and outside the state. These New Jersey-based groups are part of a larger distribution network responsible for transporting multihundred-kilograms of cocaine throughout the country. For example, Colombian DTOs supply multihundred-kilogram quantities of cocaine to Dominican criminal groups in Newark. Newark-based Dominican criminal groups then distribute multiounce or kilogram quantities to criminal groups in other major cities such as Paterson and Jersey City. Dealers then sell smaller quantities of cocaine in areas such as Hillsdale and Linden and throughout the state. Some of the powdered cocaine and crack distributed in New Jersey is smuggled from Washington Heights, New York, to New Jersey-based distributors who regularly travel to New York to purchase their product.

Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Ring Dismantled

On February 29, 2000, a federal jury in Camden, New Jersey, indicted 14 individuals and all but the two top figures pleaded guilty to operating open-air drug markets and distributing large quantities of cocaine. One of the two men who did not plead guilty was convicted on two counts of money laundering; both men face life sentences.

Source: Camden County HIDTA, 29 February 2000.

Although African American criminal groups, particularly in southern New Jersey, and Dominican criminal groups throughout the state are the dominant cocaine distributors at the retail level, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Mexican, Cuban, and other criminal groups also distribute powdered cocaine and crack. Most of these groups easily blend with New Jersey's diverse ethnic population and the state's proximity to New York makes New Jersey an appealing distribution area. Dominican criminal groups also control cut-houses, storefronts, and open-air markets in Camden, Newark, and Trenton, as well as those in other areas of the state. Street-level sales typically occur at open-air drug markets where cocaine, as well as other drugs, is generally sold. Cocaine is commonly sold in ounce and multigram quantities in vials.

52 Arrested on Cocaine Charges

Police officers in New Jersey arrested 52 individuals in a cocaine raid that encompassed four central New Jersey counties. A major street-level cocaine distributor from Sayreville, Middlesex County, sold an average of $2,000 to $3,000 worth of cocaine per day. Police seized from the distributor's car 40 bags of cocaine with a street value of $5,000 and arrested a passenger. Police arrested 50 additional individuals and charged them with conspiracy to distribute or possess cocaine. Police seized six vehicles, $30,800 in suspected drug proceeds in the distributor's apartment, and an additional $2,000 in suspected drug proceeds from other suspects.

Source: Asbury Park Press, 26 February 1999.

Street gangs distribute powdered cocaine and crack at the retail level in New Jersey, as well. At least 10 street gangs distribute cocaine locally and within the state from Jersey City, Irvington, Camden, Asbury Park, Trenton, and Middlesex, according to responses to the NDIC National Street Gang Survey 2000. The Latin Kings, Ņetas, and Bloods are the most prominent gangs involved in cocaine distribution on New Jersey streets. The Latin Kings and Ņetas distribute cocaine at the retail level in Jersey City and Camden, while the Latin Kings and Bloods distribute cocaine in Irvington. In response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2000, the Warren County Prosecutor's Office reported that street gangs are the primary retail crack distributors in its county. Numerous gang members and OMGs relocated to Warren County in the past few years and took over a major portion of the retail distribution of crack. The Phillipsburg Police Department reports that these OMGs and street gangs distribute crack in Phillipsburg, as well as across the border in Easton, Pennsylvania. The Bloods, Crips, Cash Money Boys, Haitian Mafia, and Latin Kings are the most dominant retail cocaine distributors in Warren County. These gangs use Phillipsburg and Easton as distribution points and stash locations.


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