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Cliffside Park Man Charged In State 'Operation Skin Deep' Drug Probe

Eric Rodriguez
Eric Rodriguez Photo Credit: COURTESY: NJ Attorney General

CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. -- A Cliffside Park man made "bulk purchases" of cocaine from a ring that marked it and designed drugs online and distributed them through the mail, state authorities said Monday.

Eric Rodriguez, 45, was among more than a dozen people arrested or wanted as part of "Operation Skin Deep" -- which included to one of the largest seizures in state history of alelged drug money, $1.2 million, from a defendant's trunk, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

It began as an undercover probe into cocaine sales in Atlantic City before exposiong a mail-order drug network whose product included ethylone, which is known as “M” and is similar to ecstasy, Hoffman said.

Accused ringleader Christopher Castelluzzo and three other crew members also conspired "to murder a former associate and his bodyguard," he said.

“Our racketeering indictment alleges that this ring of criminals had a cyber-age approach to distributing multiple kilograms of cocaine as well as designer drugs,” Hoffman said.

In reality, he said, they were "typical drug dealers in their willingness to resort to violence."

A grand jury in Trenton on Thursday returned indictments that weren't announced until Monday while authorities rounded up the defendants, the attorney general said. Several remained fugitives, he said.

The defendants in one indictment:

Christopher C. Castelluzzo, 31, of Lake Hopatcong, charged with the first-degree crime of leader of a narcotics trafficking network;

Luke A. Atwell, 34, of Hamilton (Mercer County), charged managerial partner for the ring;

Aldo T. Lapaix, 28, of Absecon, accused of helping obtain, package and ship the drugs.

Eric Rodriguez, 45, of Cliffside Park, who Hoffman said "made bulk purchases of cocaine with Castelluzzo";

Shazad Khan, 32, of North Bergen, who Hoffman said had the $1.2 million in duct tape-wrapped bundles in the trunk of his Infiniti;

Mervin Menier, 43, of Union City;

Jose A. Garcia-Hernandez, 51, of Absecon;

Christian Collado, 27, of Pleasantville;

Henry Bracy, 46, of New York, NY.

Also charged is an unidentified man known as "Dre," as well as tractor-trailer driver Jose Ruvalcaba, 28, of Oxnard, Calif., and

Jamaal Johnson, 30, of Baltimore, Md.

Johnson was charged with fleeing detectives who tried to stop his car the night of April 17, 2015 after he bought cocaine from Castelluzzo at the Omni Lounge in Passaic. Castelluzzo and Atwell co-owned the club, which Hoffman said "was used as a headquarters for the drug ring."

Detectives armed with a search warrant reported finding nearly five pounds of cocaine and nearly a pound of ethylone.

"Warrants executed at various locations yielded approximately a quarter of a million dollars in cash, diamond jewelry, gold bars, another quarter kilogram of cocaine, numerous rounds of ammunition, firearm silencers, cocaine testing, cutting and packaging materials, and related equipment," Hoffman said.

Defendants in the second indictment were charged with distribution and conspiracy out of Atlantic City, he said: Thomas Bullock, 62, of Millville; Thomas White, 31, of Galloway; Benjamin DiPilla, 28.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Barile presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Alyssa Schwab and Analyst Bethany Schussler assisted in the investigation for the Specialized Crimes Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller and Analyst Debra Maiorano are handling the civil forfeiture action.

The lead DCA investigators were Detective Scott Caponi of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau and Detective Brian Christensen of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. They worked under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Detectives Christopher Donohue and Lt. Lisa Cawley.

Hoffman said they received "extensive assistance" from detectives of the Gangs & Organized Crime and Specialized Crimes Bureaus, North, South, and Central Units.

"The New Jersey State Police Intelligence Section also provided valuable assistance," he said.

"Other partners that were critical to the success of the investigation were the Atlantic City Task Force, Bayonne Police Department, Galloway Police Department, North Bergen Police Department, New York City Police Department, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and New Jersey National Guard," Hoffman said.

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