Stamps used to brand drugs at mill bear same brand names linked to 33 deaths

TRENTON - On July 9, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the arrests of four persons in the takedown of a major fentanyl and heroin mill in Irvington that distributed its narcotics in wax folds stamped with the same brand names that have been linked to 93 overdoses, including 33 deaths.  Approximately 70,000 individual doses and an additional four kilograms of suspected fentanyl and heroin - with a total street value of over half a million dollars - were seized, along with two handguns and $165,526 in cash.

The arrests were made in an ongoing investigation by the New Jersey State Police Opioid Enforcement Task Force and Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. They were assisted by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, Passaic County Sheriff’s Office, Morris Plains Police, Cliffside Park Police, Nutley Police, Harrison Police, and Newark Police. The New Jersey State Police recently established the Opioid Enforcement Task Force, designed to strategically target heroin and fentanyl sources of supply across the state. In October, the Department of Law & Public Safety, New Jersey State Police, was awarded a $2.8 million grant for this Task Force from the Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), Anti-Heroin Task Force Program.

George Encarnacion, 28, of Newark, allegedly ran the opioid mill, which was set up in a second-floor apartment at 214 Eastern Parkway in Irvington. He allegedly operated the mill with associates working under him, including Jonathan Perez-Payano, 28, of Newark, and Nelfy Ulerio, 19, of Irvington. The three men were arrested last week, when the investigating agencies executed search warrants at the mill and other locations. They face first-degree charges of maintaining a narcotics production facility and possession of heroin with intent to distribute. Another associate, Steffany Castillo-Candalari, 28, of Newark, was arrested and charged with second-degree conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

“This is another victory for our Opioid Enforcement Task Force and another case where we undoubtedly saved lives by stopping countless doses of fentanyl and heroin from reaching drug users, including doses stamped with the same brand names as drugs linked to 33 deaths,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We will continue to pursue this proactive and collaborative strategy - spearheaded by our new State Police-led task force and the Division of Criminal Justice - to take down drug mills and other major drug sources and choke off the supply line of deadly opioids coming into our communities. I thank all of our task force partners and I commend the investigators who are diligently pursuing all leads to identify major fentanyl and heroin suppliers and bring them to justice.”

“When you combine the drugs already cut and packaged for distribution with the four kilograms packaged in bulk, we seized well over 100,000 doses of heroin and fentanyl at this drug mill - and that is just what they had on hand this one day,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Clearly this was an extremely high-volume mill that, thanks to our collaborative investigation, will no longer be fueling the opioid epidemic and all of the misery and death it is causing in our communities.”

“As a result of this cooperative investigation, over 70,000 lethal doses of narcotics will never make it to our neighborhoods,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “The Opioid Enforcement Task Force is doing exactly what it was designed to do - choking off the flow of lethal batches of heroin and fentanyl from a single source, arresting those responsible, and more importantly, saving lives in the process.”

Investigators seized the following items when they executed a search warrant at the mill location on the second floor of 214 Eastern Parkway, Irvington:

· Over 1,400 bricks (consisting of 50 wax folds each) of suspected heroin/fentanyl, plus hundreds of loose wax folds of heroin/fentanyl (approximate street value of $350,000)
· Approximately four kilograms of suspected fentanyl or fentanyl mixed with heroin (approximate street value of $200,000)
· Handgun with large capacity (30-round) magazine
· Hundreds of empty wax folds
· Other packaging and milling material including 17 grinders, two kilogram presses, scales, sifters, boxes of tape, mixing agents and other mill paraphernalia
· 22 rubber ink stamps bearing different brands. Twelve of the brand names on the stamps are the same brands that have been linked to 93 overdoses, including 33 fatal overdoses and 60 non-fatal overdoses.

The brand names on the seized rubber stamps that have been associated with overdoses are posted with this press release at

“We know that our state is home to far too many people struggling with addiction,” said Attorney General Grewal. “But we ask that, no matter what challenges you’re facing in your life, if you see heroin stamped with these markings, please, please stay away from it. Your next fix could be your last.”

“If you encounter any of these stamps, please notify law enforcement,” continued Attorney General Grewal. “Many departments and County Prosecutors across our state allow individuals to turn in drugs and paraphernalia, no questions asked.”

Investigators executed a search warrant at Encarnacion’s apartment in Newark, where they seized $137,000 in cash, 5 grams of heroin, a scale, and packaging materials. They also executed a search warrant at the apartment shared by Perez-Payano and Castillo-Candalari, which is in the same apartment building, where they seized $28,526, a money counter, and a stolen handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets.

Deputy Attorneys General Heather Hausleben and Angel Hector are the lead prosecutors for this investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis and Deputy Bureau Chief Cynthia Vazquez.

Detective Jason Wiswesser is the case agent for this investigation for the New Jersey State Police Gangs and Organized Crime North Unit, under the supervision of Detective Sgt. Hugo Ribeiro. Sgt. Miguel Holguin participated in the investigation for the NJSP Regional Operations Intelligence Center.  The Opioid Enforcement Task Force is led by Lieutenant Larry Williams of the Intelligence and Criminal Enterprise Section.

The New Jersey State Police Trafficking North Unit, Criminal Investigation Office, Field Operations Section, TEAMS North Unit, K-9 Unit, Hazardous Material Response Unit, and Crime Scene Investigation North Unit participated in the investigation.

Attorney General Grewal thanked all of the agencies participating in the Opioid Enforcement Task Force and all of the other agencies that assisted in this investigation.

This investigation is part of a broader strategy being implemented by the Opioid Enforcement Task Force and Division of Criminal Justice that reflects a shift in how the state is investigating and prosecuting opioid cases.  Investigations and intelligence show that, in some cases, a large number of overdose deaths can be traced back to a single source, often a supplier who indiscriminately mixes fentanyl with heroin. By focusing on identifying and shutting down these sources, the state is leveraging its resources to have maximum impact in choking off the supply line of deadly opioids and reducing overdoses and fatalities.

In March, the Opioid Enforcement Task Force, Division of Criminal Justice, and task force partners arrested Timothy Guest, 45, of Irvington, and two other men on charges that they were operating a major opioid mill out of a luxury apartment in Harrison.  The investigating agencies seized approximately 32,500 individual doses and four kilos of fentanyl and heroin, along with rubber ink stamps bearing the same brand names that had been linked to 227 overdoses, including 84 deaths. Guest and his co-defendants face pending charges, including a first-degree charge of maintaining a narcotics production facility.

In targeting the most deadly opioid packaging facilities and sources of supply, the Opioid Enforcement Task Force works with the NJSP Regional Operations Intelligence Center. In addition to NJSP members, the Task Force is comprised of task force officers from local, county and state partners. The Task Force also works cooperatively with the DEA and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations to further its mission.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.


By Walter Elliott

IRVINGTON - Council President David Lyons and a quorum of his Township Council colleagues started their series of public meetings March 25 here in the Municipal Building Council Chamber in their usual manner - but he kept looking over towards the vacant far north dais seat where South Ward Councilwoman Sandra R. Jones would sit.

Lyons convened the council's "pre-meeting" at 5:36 p.m. Monday with the usual pledge of allegiance, a moment of silence and the council roll call.

It was after announcing to the chamber gallery audience that East Ward Councilman Paul Inman, Jr. would be absent for the meetings that he looked again at Jones' place, missing her nameplate, and paused.

"I've been on this council for 22 years and Sandy Jones has been here for 17 of those years," Lyons finally said. "As you probably know by now, we lost her suddenly Thursday (March 21). She was a great councilwoman for the constituents of her ward; she treated them like family.

"I lost a friend and we lost a public servant," finished Lyons. "We knew something was wrong when none of us got her morning calls Thursday. I'm going to be fine."

Lyons and his four colleagues present continued with the pre-meeting, department head meeting and regular council meeting the next three hours. They, Municipal Clerk Harold Wiener, several of Mayor Tony Vauss' department heads and a capacity gallery audience soldiered on with Monday's program.

March 25, like most other council meetings here, included fielding public questions along the lines of changed signal timing at Springfield and Stuyvesant avenues. Many of the audience came to celebrate the council's commendations six Irvingtonians in their annual Women's History Month observance.

Lyons, however, noted several proposed resolutions in the pre-meeting with, "Councilwoman Jones moved it on first reading; I'll move it in her place." He dedicated the regular meeting's moment of silence 7:37 p.m. in her honor.

Most of those in the chamber, on either side of the dais, can look at Jones' absent chair and her official portrait on the nearby north wall.

"I'm used to seeing Sandy Jones across from me," said Councilwoman Renee Burgess during the regular meeting. "I'm going to miss watching her reaction to something the Council President would say. She'd give President Lyons a look in his direction."

"This' a bittersweet occasion," said Councilwoman Charnette Frederic. "On one hand, we're celebrating those Irvington women who have been improving our lives. On the other, it comes while we remember one of our own who also contributed."

Jones, 76, had served Irvington the last 26 years as a councilwoman, a board of education member, an Irvington Democratic Committee ward district leader and founder of the Maple Avenue Block Association - the latter shortly after moving here from Jersey City.

Jones was elected several times to the school board and, by her colleagues, once selected as their vice president. She left the IBOE when the Township Council appointed her in May 2002 to finish the late D. Bilal Beasley's unexpired South Ward Council term. (Voters had elected future Council President and Essex County Freeholder Beasley to become one of Irvington's three at-large council seats.)

South Ward voters re-elected Jones four times, the last on May 10, 2016. Jones, running on Vauss' "Team Irvington Strong" ticket, received nearly a two-to-one plurality then over independent runner Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz.

Jones' biographies on and in Vauss' 2019 State of the Township Address program cited her championing two municipal council ordinances. MC 3206 banned using hand-held cell phones while driving within the township. MC 3448 permitted constables to serve maintenance code violations on property owners, freeing Irvington police officers for other duties.

"Councilwoman Jones (as of March 21) chaired the Council's Ad Hoc, Constable, Planning & Economic Development, Rent Control and Taxi committees," said Wiener between sessions Monday. "She was the council's liaison on the Irvington Planning Board and was a member on other committees."

Jones, at the time of her death, was the council's Second Vice President. She would preside over council meetings when Lyons and Council Vice President Renee Burgess were absent.

Jones, as a Friends of Irvington Park President, sought improvement funds for the Essex County park. She oversaw the Beasley Community Center and Senior Cafe's 2015-16 construction there.

Jones accomplished the above while an Essex County employee. The former Welfare Division Family Service Worker was most recently a re-entry program counselor.

The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Girls High School graduate was a veteran of Jersey City municipal educational and political arenas before moving here.

The PS 34 and Snyder High School PTA and Armstrong Avenue Block Association president helped Julian K. Robinson's unsuccessful campaign to unseat Thomas J. Whelan as mayor in 1969. (Robinson, as a department head, became Jersey City's first African American mayor when Whelan went on vacation in 1964.)

Irvington, into March 21, has been mourning the Jan. 9 death of Councilwoman-turned Freeholder Lebby Jones. While the township and county Democratic committees appointed IBOE President Romaine Graham to succeed L. Jones, Wiener reminded "Local Talk" that finding S. Jones' successor will take a different route.

"Irvington has a nonpartisan municipal government," said the city clerk. "The council will consider resumes from legal township residents. The council may schedule a special election to complete the unexpired term - which ends July 1, 2020."

Jones, North Ward Councilman Lyons, East Ward's Inman and West Ward's Vernal "Vern" Cox were to be on Vauss' "Team Irvington Strong" slate for the May 14, 2020 ward elections.

"Any registered Irvington resident who can file the required number of petition signatures," added Wiener, "can run for that election. But the Council's first order of business, after we all have paid our respects, will be in naming a new planning board liaison."

Jones' viewing and funeral, as per Vauss' March 23 Facebook posting, has been scheduled for March 29 here at Solid Rock Baptist Church. 644 Chancellor Ave. is to open 9 a.m. for the viewing, followed by an 11 a.m. funeral.

Vauss also posted photos, taken March 13, of him, Jones and Lyons conversing.

"While the grief is not greater in sudden death, the capacity to cope is diminished," observed the mayor. "When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure."

"Sandra Jones was the epitome of a public servant," said IBOE Member and Neighborhood Preservation Coordinator Jamillah Beasley-McCleod. "She and Bilal Beasley used to frequently work together."

Fellow school board member Jospeh Sylvain, after the meetings, took a photo of Jones' portrait before leaving.

"We used to go out to local jazz clubs," said Councilwoman Dr. October Hudley. "She never wanted to stay out too late and wanted to make sure I got home. She was never afraid of taking stands that may be unpopular."

"Sandy Jones was my friend," said Cox. "She was always fighting for her South Ward residents, always looking to do something more efficiently."

"Essex County and Irvington lost a strong advocate in the passing of Sandy Jones," said County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo (D-Roseland). "She worked tirelessly as a public servant to serve her community. We valued her partnership as a county employee and President of Friends of Irvington Park."

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson) and First Lady Tammy Murphy, in their March 22 condolences, also expressed their sadness in Jones' passing.

District leader and son Scott Sinkler is among Jones' survivors.

"It was rough getting through Friday (March 22) around here," concluded Weiner Monday night.