A Mercer County man who running a mail-order cocaine and designer drug business was sentenced to 19 years in prison Thursday in Atlantic County.
A dozen people were charged in the enterprise which was discovered by a detective looking into white supremacist groups in Atlantic City.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Skin Deep, yielded a quarter-million dollars in cash, a quarter-kilogram of cocaine, diamond jewelry, gold bars, numerous rounds of ammunition, firearm silencers, and cocaine testing, cutting and packaging materials, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.
Luke Atwell, 37, of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, must serve at least 16 years before he is eligible for parole.
Atwell acted as managing partner of the drug ring.
“This sentence sends a loud and clear message to narcotics traffickers that if you choose to profit by spreading addiction in New Jersey and fueling street-level crime with your drugs, we will come after you and you will face hard time,” Grewal said. “I commend the detectives and prosecutors who pursued all the leads to bring these defendants to justice, beginning with drug sales in parking lots and back rooms in Atlantic City and ultimately exposing a statewide drug network that relied on the internet and mail delivery to distribute its corrosive wares.”
Atwell’s partner, Christopher Castelluzzo, 33, of Lake Hopatcong, Sussex County, pleaded guilty in May for his part in forming the enterprise. He faces a recommended sentence of 21 years in prison, with 18 years of parole ineligibility when he is sentenced June 21.
Aldo Lapaix, 31, of Absecon, already was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with 8½ years of parole ineligibility.
The investigation into cocaine sales in Atlantic City ultimately exposed a network that was using the internet to arrange mail-order sales of cocaine and designer drugs, including ethylone, which is known as “M” and is similar to ecstasy, Grewal said.
“Atwell and his partners were making millions of dollars using their unconventional business model for dealing drugs,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We have put them out of business and ensured with these prison sentences that they won’t be operating any illicit enterprises for many years to come.”
Atwell, Castelluzzo and Lapaix were indicted on March 3, 2016, along with nine other men, including seven other alleged ring members and two alleged associates. Six of those ring members have pleaded guilty and received or face prison sentences ranging from five to 10 years.
Another man charged in the indictment, Jose Ruvalcaba, 30, of Oxnard, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The tractor-trailer driver was arrested by detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice in a parking lot off Union Turnpike in North Bergen, along with alleged ring member Shazad Khan, 34, of North Bergen. Detectives found approximately $1.2 million in cash in the trunk of Khan’s Infiniti, wrapped in bundles with duct tape.
It was one of the largest cash seizures in state law enforcement history.
Khan allegedly met Ruvalcaba so that Ruvalcaba could transport the cash as payment for cocaine.