UPDATED: $3.6M in heroin seized in largest Cape May County sweep

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CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – Police seized $3.6 million worth of heroin, a handgun and $200,000 on Wednesday in what law enforcement officials have said is the largest narcotic investigation in Cape May County history.

The equivalent of 182,000 bags of heroin was recovered as a result of the two-month long drug investigation, officials announced in a Wednesday press conference.

“As you can well imagine, taking this many bags of heroin off the streets here in Cape May County  and Cumberland county is going to have a big effect on young people and the people who are using heroin,” Taylor said.

State and federal law enforcement descended on 18 locations in Middle Township, Wildwood and Vineland in a coordinated sweep 10 a.m. Wednesday, said county Prosecutor Robert Taylor.

Hector Ramos, Cape May County, Carlos Guzman, Vineland, and a third suspect are in custody. Ramos and Guzman have been charged as leaders of a narcotics trafficking network, police said.

The third suspect, as yet unnamed, has international drug connections, officials said. Nine other individuals have been arrested on charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute drugs.

“The cartels are probably involved in this one,” Taylor said during a press conference Wednesday.

The nine individuals charged are Miguel Claudio, Juan A. Lopez, Maritza Jenkins, Toby Simmons, Jose Baez, Edward Perez, Angelica Alvarado, Romulo Rojas Navarro, and Badie M. Hmaidan, according to officials. Police have not yet released their ages or residences.

According to Taylor, the locations searched Wednesday served as either warehouses or distribution points, but he would offer few details about the connection between them. Included in those searched were the Seawatch and Pan-A-Lu Motels in Wildwood.

In addition to the 18 residences, hotels and storage units, police received warrants to search six vehicles.

A single vehicle in Cape May County yielded 7,700 bags of heroin that were prepackaged for street sale, police said.

At a press conference at the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement listed locations targeted during the raid: 513 North Wildwood Boulevard in Middle Township; 210 W. Spencer Ave. in Wildwood; 139 W. Hand Avenue in Wildwood ; Wildwood Pan-A-Lu Motel - Room 13; Wildwood Pan-A-Lu Motel - Room 15; Wildwood Seawatch Motel at 5100 Atlantic Ave. - Room 19; 2401 NJ Ave. in Wildwood; Goodman’s Storage - Unit A8 in Cape May Court House; Four Burleigh Storage units in Burleigh; 1821 Almond Road in Vineland; 1761 Almond Ave. in Vineland; 3435 Hancebridge Road in Vineland; and 1794 Cedar Ave. in Vineland.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said that the Vineland locations were rural areas.

About 25 separate law enforcement agencies worked on the investigation, which Taylor said began at the Cape May County office, including the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s office, Atlantic City office of the DEA, Atlantic City office of the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations from Cherry Hill, and the Newark office FBI SWAT team, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Salem County Prosecutor’s Office, and others.

More information about those arrested, the investigation, and possibly more arrests, could be expected throughout the week, Taylor said. Searches of more locations are also ongoing.

If convicted as a leader of a narcotics trafficking network, Taylor said Ramos and Guzman face a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 25 years, Taylor said.

“I believe that this is a big tool to have to show we are fighting this epidemic,” Webb-McRae said.

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