TOMS RIVER — A widespread narcotics investigation that began with a traffic stop in Lakewood resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of nearly $2 million in cash and vehicles and of drugs with a street value of nearly $1 million.

Surrounded by law enforcement officials from around the state, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato on Friday said that Operation Heading Back, which he called the largest drug bust in Ocean County in 30 years, took investigators to Monmouth, Hudson, Essex, Passaic, the Bronx and beyond.

The investigation led to 28 arrests and the seizure of over $848,000 in cash, 27 vehicles worth $713,000, 20 firearms (including a loaded AK-47), 90,000 dosages of raw heroin and 19 pounds of cocaine.

The operation also shut down nine drug production facilities in Ocean County and in North Jersey.

"These are the facilities that were creating the drugs that worked their way across the state of New Jersey," he said.

Those arrested came from Brick, Lakewood, Newark, Paterson, Piscataway, Keansburg, Parlin, Long Branch, Jersey City, Plainfield, Howell, East Orange, Toms River and Jackson.

Their charges from first-degree maintaining a drug facility, to drug dealing, to lower-level possession offenses. One man, Robert Hager, 62, of Toms River, was charged with a disorderly persons offense of possessing a syringe.

Three suspects remain at large: Morris Howard, 41, of Brick; Stacy Bell, 45, of Piscataway; and Akera Lewis, 27, of Newark.

All the defendants and their photos are in the video above or below.

Coronato said the takedown was made possible by the county's acceptance in September into the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) partnership, which gave his office access to critical resources in the fight against heroin and painkiller abuse.

"We used sophisticated surveillance methods and undercover operatives to be successful in disrupting and dismantling this dangerous substance network," Coronato said.

Coronato said the operation was a good example of police working with prosecutors, the National Guard and the DEA.

"The bottom line is that we couldn't this operation unless we all worked together," Coronato said.

The prosecutor, whose five-year appointment in Ocean County ends this year, cited what he called thee blocks in law enforcement: prevention and education, strong law enforcement and breaking the cycle of addiction.

"This drug ring was not only fueling the epidemic of opiate addiction that is destroying so many lives in New Jersey, it was engaged in the variety of drug trafficking that drives much of the gun violence in our communities,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J. 3rd District, who help get Ocean County into the HIDTA partnership, said that "if it weren’t for the excellent multi-jurisdictional efforts, these illegal drugs, weapons, and criminals would have poured into our communities and destroyed people’s lives and their families."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.

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