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New Jersey Drug Threat Assessment
May 2001


Map of New Jersey showing counties, principal cities, and interstate highways.


New Jersey is the ninth most populous state in the nation with 8.4 million residents in 21 counties. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and is strategically located as a drug transshipment point and distribution center. The two largest cities in New Jersey, Newark and Jersey City, boast large, ethnically diverse populations--as do many others. New Jersey has busy seaports, two international airports, and borders two key distribution centers--New York City and Philadelphia--all of which enhance its role as drug transshipment point. Drug distributors and users pose a significant threat to public health and safety throughout the state.

Fast Facts
New Jersey
Population (2000) 8.4 million
U.S. population ranking 9th
Median income (1999) $49,930
Unemployment rate (1999) 4.6%
Land area 7,419 square miles
1,792 miles
130 miles
Capital Trenton
Other principal cities Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson
Number of counties 21
Principal industries Agriculture, petrochemicals, manufacturing, research, development

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New Jersey has a wide array of transportation options available for both licit and illicit activities. Drugs concealed in shipments of legitimate goods transported by truck, private vehicle, railcar, maritime vessel, aircraft, and parcel delivery service have an excellent chance of reaching their destination because of the volume of traffic traveling to and through the state daily. New Jersey has a 130-mile coastline and two major seaports, New York/New Jersey and Philadelphia/Camden. Port Newark and the Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal, part of the NY/NJ Seaport, together constitute one of the largest containerized port complexes in North America. Longshoremen handled over 1.6 million containers at the New Jersey ports in 1999, up from 1.1 million in 1991. (See Table 1.) Canadian Pacific, CSX, and the Norfolk Southern railroads provide service to Port Newark. The Portside International Rail Container Terminal is one of the East Coast's largest intermodal facilities for handling containers. Over 10,000 trucking companies operate in conjunction with Newark's port facilities. New Jersey has two international airports, Newark International Airport in northern New Jersey and Atlantic City International Airport in southern New Jersey. Newark International Airport is the ninth busiest airport in the United States and fifteenth busiest in the world, with over 33,814,000 passenger arrivals and departures in 1999. The airport is also the ninth busiest in the United States in terms of cargo volume with 1,078,809 tons shipped in 1999. International passenger traffic has increased 175 percent over the last 5 years, making Newark International Airport one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. Traffickers smuggle illegal drugs into Newark International Airport from source areas such as Colombia, Mexico, Jamaica, and Europe. A maze of superhighways throughout the state, particularly Interstates 78, 80, and 95, accommodates a high volume of commercial and private traffic traveling to New Jersey from various parts of the country.

 Table 1. Port Statistics, New Jersey, 1991-1999
Year Containers TEUs*
1991 1,111,894 1,865,471
1992 1,205,338 2,014,052
1993 1,180,861 1,972,692
1994 1,219,139 2,033,879
1995 1,327,448 2,262,792
1996 1,335,379 2,269,145
1997 1,460,373 2,456,886
1998 1,475,913 2,465,993
1999 1,685,358 2,828,878

Source: Port Authority of New York, New Jersey.
*Twenty-foot Equivalent Units

The four largest cities in New Jersey--Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Paterson--are located in the five counties of the state that are part of the New York and New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and are within 15 miles of New York City. The number of drug stash houses and operation sites is on the rise in these areas as law enforcement initiatives push distributors out of New York. In 1999, the New York and New Jersey HIDTA conducted more drug investigations in New Jersey than in New York. Despite law enforcement arrests of key members of several criminal groups in New Jersey, traffickers continue to smuggle in large amounts of drugs, which they distribute locally and nationwide.

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Numerous drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), criminal groups, and gangs transport and distribute drugs to and through New Jersey. Colombian DTOs are the dominant cocaine and South American heroin suppliers for New Jersey-based criminal groups. Colombian DTOs and Dominican criminal groups control most of the wholesale distribution of cocaine and South American heroin 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. Caribbean, Cuban, Jamaican, Mexican, Russian, Nigerian, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, and other Hispanic criminal elements, among others, also transport both drugs to the state. New Jersey, particularly Newark and Camden, serves as a transportation hub for bulk quantities of cocaine and heroin smuggled to the state; however, additional quantities destined for New Jersey are transshipped through New York City and Philadelphia. Mexican, Jamaican, and Caucasian criminal groups dominate marijuana distribution, some of which is transported in tractor-trailers from the Southwest Border to New Jersey. Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), traditional organized crime groups such as Italian Organized Crime (IOC) and teenagers and young adults at raves dominate methamphetamine distribution in New Jersey. New Jersey is a transshipment point for some methamphetamine destined for Pennsylvania and states as far away as Texas. Mexican and Filipino criminal groups also transport and distribute methamphetamine in the state, but to a lesser extent. Israeli and Russian criminal groups transport other dangerous drugs (ODDs), particularly MDMA, (3,4-methlyenedioxymethamphetamine) to New Jersey where OMGs, teenagers, and young adults then control most of distribution in the state.

Several street gangs are involved in drug distribution and violent crime throughout the state. Survey responses to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Street Gang Survey Report 2000 illustrate that most of the 19 reported street gangs in New Jersey distribute drugs and commit violent crimes, including assaults, drive-by shootings, and homicides. The Bloods, Latin Kings, and Ņetas street gangs and Five Percenters, a cultural group, are the most prominent (have the most chapters). (See text box.) All distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Jersey City and Irvington, New Jersey. The Latin Kings and Ņetas street gangs and Five Percenters cultural group also distribute in Camden, while the Bloods distribute in Eatontown.


Bloods gangs originally formed in Los Angeles in the 1960s and primarily are composed of African Americans. Since the mid-1980s, the Bloods have spread across much of the United States. In New Jersey, gangs that identify themselves as Bloods began independently and generally do not have any connection to the Los Angeles-based gangs. Bloods sets in the northeast generally identify with the United Blood Nation, which began in Riker's Island in New York City in the early 1990s. Various sets of the United Blood Nation are found throughout New Jersey and surrounding states. Bloods gang members have a propensity for violence and engage in drug sales, homicide, robbery, extortion, and auto theft.

Latin Kings

Latin Kings is a predominately Hispanic street and prison gang with two major factions, one in Chicago and the other in the northeast. This gang started as a social group in Hispanic communities but later evolved into organized criminal enterprises involved in drug trafficking and violent crime. Latin Kings is a highly structured gang that relies on strict, detailed charters to maintain discipline. The Chicago-based Latin Kings is the foundation upon which all Latin Kings gangs are based. The gang operates drug distribution enterprises on the North and Southeast Sides of Chicago and has expanded throughout Illinois and the nation. Latin Kings in the northeast started in the Connecticut prison system in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the Chicago-based Latin Kings. This gang operates drug distribution enterprises in New Jersey and surrounding states. The Latin Kings has attempted to consolidate the Chicago- and northeast-based factions.


The Ņetas originated as a Hispanic prison gang in the Puerto Rican prison system in the 1970s. The Ņetas has many chapters in the U.S. prison system and in many communities, primarily in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The Ņetas is an organized gang that uses drug trafficking as its major source of income and is also involved in other criminal activities such as extortion, intimidation, robbery, assault, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and murder.

Five Percenters

The Five Percent or the Nation of Gods and Earths, founded in 1964 by Clarence Edward Smith Jowers upon his expulsion from the Nation of Islam, is a loosely knit organization made up mostly of African Americans. The name Five Percenters, derived from the "Mathematics" of the Nation of Islam "Lessons," is symbolic of members believing they are the true five percent gods of the universe with the knowledge and wisdom to deliver the black man from the home of the devil. Five Percenters do not consider their beliefs a religion and teach Islam as a righteous culture for black individuals. They believe that a black man with the knowledge (the Five Percent) is a god of himself as well as his people and that the "eurogentiles" have deceived the whole world causing it to honor and worship false gods and idols. Understanding this philosophy is essential for those who encounter Five Percenters. In its hierarchy, a Five Percenter male is a god with the highest status, followed by black males in the masses, earths (Five Percenter females), black females in the masses, white males, and white females. Some members do not believe they are accountable for the crimes they commit because of their status as gods or earths. Many members formed loosely organized sets that distribute drugs and commit violent crimes, including against each other. Some Five Percenters profess their beliefs through the lyrics of popular rap and hip-hop music.

Street gangs distributing powdered cocaine and crack, particularly at open-air drug markets, pose the greatest threat to the health and safety of New Jersey's citizens; however, heroin is a significant threat as well. Heroin and crack users account for a high number of treatment admissions in New Jersey. Crack cocaine users are often violent, while heroin users risk exposure to HIV as injectors "shoot up" and share needles, resulting in increased risks to public health and safety. The number of injecting drug users infected with HIV in New Jersey increased 4 percent, from 7,115 in 1998 to 7,410 in 1999. Ninety percent of the state's 21 task forces report that open-air drug markets are prevalent. Hunterdon and Sussex, two very rural counties, are the exceptions.

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Law enforcement officials dedicate fewer resources to investigate the distribution and use of marijuana, methamphetamine, and ODDs in part because of the large number of heroin and cocaine abusers in New Jersey. Although marijuana is the most prevalent drug, users do not typically engage in violent crime. Methamphetamine is reportedly available in 18 counties, but is typically distributed in the central and southern counties in the state. While law enforcement officers started to seize methamphetamine and methamphetamine laboratories in New Jersey in 1997, the methamphetamine threat is not as great as it is in the west and midwest. ODDs, which include designer drugs and diverted pharmaceuticals, are available mostly at raves and college parties, where users are typically friendly and peaceful.

The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (NJDCJ) reports that drug-related crime is increasing at an alarming rate throughout the state. NJDCJ estimates that 70 percent of violent crime results directly from drug activity. Drug-related arrests in New Jersey fluctuated between 1995 and 1998. State law enforcement agencies reported a 4 percent increase in drug-related arrests from 1995 to 1996. During the same period, the number of murders, aggravated assaults, and robberies decreased. The number of drug-related arrests in New Jersey decreased 2 percent, from 65,317 in 1997 to 64,011 in 1998. Young adults under the age of 21 committed 40 percent of all drug abuse violations in the state in 1998.

Drug Arrests at Rutgers University

Rutgers University in New Brunswick had 138 drug arrests in 1998, the second highest number among large universities in the country, according to a survey of campus crime across the nation. The University of California at Berkeley had the most with 280 arrests. Rutgers officials reported that they aggressively prosecute drug crimes; patrol with police in East Brunswick, Edison, Highland Park, New Brunswick, and Piscataway; and have arrest authority off campus, making arrest statistics high.

Source: The Region, "Rutgers Second Nationwide in University Drug Arrests," 8 June 2000.

The number of federal drug offenders sentenced in New Jersey is consistent with the national average; however, the percentage of heroin- and cocaine-related sentences is much higher in New Jersey than nationwide. Drug offenses composed over 35 percent of all federal sentencing cases in the state in 1999, compared with the national sentencing average of 41 percent. Over 77 percent of all drug sentences in the state were cocaine- or heroin-related, a 20 percent higher ratio than the national average. More significantly, heroin sentences represent 38 percent of all federal sentencing cases, compared with 8 percent nationally.

New Jersey, particularly Newark, has a high but stable number of emergency department (ED) mentions and treatment admissions. There were 844 ED mentions per 100,000 in Newark in 1998, the third highest of the 21 metropolitan areas studied (behind Baltimore and Philadelphia), according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). According to Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), New Jersey ranked at least third in the United States for annual drug treatment admissions and admissions per 100,000 from 1992 through 1997. In 1997, New Jersey had 23,922 treatment admissions for heroin abuse, second only to New York with 28,922 admissions. Over 7,300 treatment admissions were for cocaine abuse, 5,340 for marijuana, 511 for other opiates, 507 for other drugs, and 140 for methamphetamine. According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services Drug and Alcohol Abuse report, the state has more than 60,000 drug treatment admissions annually. Of all treatment admissions, 42 percent reported heroin as the primary drug abused, 13 percent reported cocaine, and 9 percent reported marijuana.

Money laundering adversely affects New Jersey's economy as large amounts of cash are transported out of the state. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), El Dorado Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigated a Mexican banking scandal with serious, far-reaching financial implications that forced the state government to consider financial reforms to help offset this threat.

Colombian and Dominican DTOs constitute the greatest money laundering threat in New Jersey despite a law established in 1999 that toughens penalties for some methods of money laundering. The law does not cover the state's numerous check cashing outlets and wire transfer franchises and drug money launderers continue to use these methods.

Colombian and Dominican DTOs ship bulk quantities of U.S. currency to their countries inside hidden compartments in automobiles transported on maritime vessels. Another popular method used to smuggle currency out of the United States involves couriers who take flights from New Jersey to Colombia via Venezuela. According to USCS, couriers usually travel in groups of about six, and smuggle about $90,000 total, wrapped in carbon paper to thwart X-ray detection at airports. Colombian money launderers meet the couriers once in the country and usually pay the couriers between 2 and 5 percent of the total. Law enforcement reports indicate that money laundering organizations purchase electronics and/or clothing in bulk and ship them directly to Colombia, where they are sold at discounted prices.

The money laundering problem is exacerbated by the casino industry in Atlantic City. Corrupt casino employees facilitate money laundering activities. In June 1998, federal and state law enforcement officers in New Jersey posing as drug distributors arrested four casino employees working at three casinos and charged them with laundering $400,000. Drug money launderers also use Atlantic City casinos to convert cash into casino chips or tokens and draw checks on casino bank accounts. The importance of casinos in money laundering is difficult to quantify at present. A money laundering commission was established to more closely monitor these issues.


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