A major drug bust today in Camden leads to charges against 41 people, according to the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

State Attorney General Jeff Chiesa says 25 alleged drug dealers were arrested  in the takedown of a  narcotics distribution network with ties to the Ñetas that was dealing large quantities of heroin in the area of 4th and Royden Streets in Camden.

Arrest warrants were issued for 41 people, including 28 alleged members of the network and 13 other alleged drug dealers from outside the network who were charged as a result of the investigation.

Beginning early today, a multi-agency force fanned out across Camden to make arrests.  By 11 a.m., 25 defendants were in custody, and 16 others were being sought on warrants.  The charges stem from Operation Billboard, a nine-month investigation led by the Division of Criminal Justice, with assistance from the Camden City Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Today’s arrests include the alleged leader of the network, Noel Gonzalez, 43, of Camden, a reputed member of the Ñetas, who is charged with leading a narcotics trafficking network, a first-degree crime that carries a sentence of life in prison, including 25 years without parole.  Gonzalez and 27 other alleged members of his organization, including his top deputies, are charged with first-degree racketeering.  That charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison.

The narcotics network was dealing up to tens of thousands of dollars in heroin per week.  In addition to Gonzalez, the leaders of the network include other members of the Ñetas and Latin Kings street gangs.  Nine defendants have been charged in the past with violent crimes or weapons offenses.

The 13 alleged drug dealers from outside of the network who were charged in Operation Billboard include two men from the “Top 10” list of violent offenders in Camden compiled by law enforcement authorities: Joseph Serrano, 30, aka “Joey Crack,” and Kevin Hannah, 47, aka “ICU.”  The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is pursuing suspected links, developed through this investigation, between this drug network and several unsolved homicides in Camden.

“The culture of violence in our cities is rooted in a culture of drug dealing.  With investigations such as this one, we are taking aim at the primary threat to the safety and quality of life of Camden residents,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “ With these arrests, we have dismantled his criminal enterprise and taken additional violent offenders from outside of his network off of the street.”

“The value of long-term investigations such as Operation Billboard is that they enable us to take down the upper echelons of drug networks, not just the lower-level dealers who conduct hand-to-hand transactions on the street,” said Stephen  Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “By building a strong racketeering case, we can put these criminals in prison for a long time.”

“The takedown today and the investigation leading up to it are further examples of the day-to-day cooperation among all levels of law enforcement operating in the city and the county,” said Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk.  “We expect that information obtained from this investigation will lead to additional arrests for other serious crimes.”