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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Seven Arrested, Charged With Selling Illegal Drugs To Veterans Treated At VA Medical Centers In New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – Seven men with access to two VA medical centers in New Jersey were arrested this morning by special agents of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General and the FBI on federal charges alleging they sold illegal drugs to veterans being treated at the centers, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

The seven defendants were each charged in separate criminal complaints with various counts of distributing controlled substances – including heroin, crack and hydromorphone – at the VA medical centers in East Orange and Lyons, N.J. Five of the men were arrested this morning at the Lyons facility, one was arrested at the East Orange facility and one was arrested at his home. All are expected to make their initial appearances this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk in Newark federal court.

“According to our charges, these seven men abused their access to VA medical facilities to peddle dangerous drugs to other veterans undergoing treatment,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “It is tragic that those who have served their country would exploit their fellow veterans.”

“This investigation was initiated by VA OIG two years ago in response to the fatal heroin overdose of a veteran at the VA medical center in Lyons, New Jersey,” said Jeffrey G. Hughes, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Veterans Affairs, Officer of Inspector General, Northeast Field Office. “Subsequently, the FBI and VA OIG jointly launched an operation which focused on combating the sale of heroin and crack cocaine to patients at Lyons. VA management at Lyons, including VA Police, provided invaluable support during the course of this investigation. We hope anyone selling drugs at VA treatment facilities will realize that we will vigorously pursue them to protect veterans seeking treatment.”

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Newark Division and the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General conducted a joint investigation targeting the distribution of narcotics on the grounds of VA Hospitals in New Jersey,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford. “As a result of this joint investigation, the FBI and VA OIG have been successful in disrupting the criminal activity occurring on the VA grounds. The Newark Division will continue to work in conjunction with our federal, state and local partners to combat the drug problem.”

The VA medical centers provide a wide range of medical and rehabilitation treatment services to veterans, including drug abuse and additional rehabilitation services, along with vocational training and other social services. According to the complaints, the defendants, each of whom is a veteran with privileged access to the buildings and grounds of the medical centers, sold controlled substances to other veterans receiving services from the centers. 

Each count with which the defendants are charged carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The defendants and counts with which they are charged are as follows:



Count One – heroin distribution

Count Two – cocaine base distribution

Robin Merritt, 55, of Hackensack, N.J.

Count One - heroin distribution

Count Two - cocaine base distribution

Count Three – hydromorphone distribution

Abdul Kareem Muhammad, 50, of Boundbrook, N.J.

Count One – heroin distribution

Count Two – cocaine base distribution

Yusef Muhammad, 59, of North Plainfield, N.J.

Count One – heroin distribution

Thomas Pearson, 66, of Dover, N.J.

Count One – heroin distribution

Christopher Shalaby, 31, of Somerville, N.J.

Count One – heroin distribution

John Stuckey, 49, of Newark

Count One – heroin distribution

U.S. Attorney Fishman praised special agents of the Veterans Administration, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Hughes in Newark, and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ford in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges. He also thanked the VA Police for their assistance.   

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Eskew of the U.S. Attorney’s Office General Crimes Unit in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.


Johnson, Phillip Complaint
Merritt, Robin Complaint
Muhammad, Abdul Kareem Complaint
Muhammad, Yusuf Complaint
Pearson, Thomas Complaint
Shalaby, Christopher Complaint
Stuckey, John Complaint

Press Release Number: 
Phillip Johnson, 52, of Basking Ridge, N.J.
Updated August 20, 2015