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Fruits of major Bergen pot bust: Hot cars, $1.2M+ in assets

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: Two of the sleek sports cars seized by Bergen County prosecutors who busted a high-level pot trafficking network this weekend are considered among the fastest, well-built vehicles ever made. They’re also worth nearly $300,000 combined — barely a fourth of the total assets seized, which could end up boosting crime-fighting resources in the county.

Lamborghini seized by Bergen Prosecutor’s Office (EXCLUSIVE CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos: No re-use without hyperlink)

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli has used forfeiture assets to fund a variety of programs. He has helped financially-strapped local police departments study consolidation or obtain needed equipment.

A few years ago, he put forfeited assets toward training prosecutors in cybercrime.

They, in turn, have brought major cases against those accused of financial crimes and put away about as many accused child predators as any other group of county prosecutors in New Jersey. They also are more skilled now in more intricate cases of cyberterrorism, thanks to cash and assets seized from accused criminals.

Several municipal departments have tapped the forfeiture fund to pay for operational studies that could lead to mergers or consolidations with other departments. Right now, a class of young police officers are taking a graduate course at FDU to help them rise in rank — half of which Molinelli paid for through seized assets.

Audi R8

Just last month, the prosecutor donated $7 million from the forfeiture account toward necessary renovations for the county courthouse complex, which turns 100 this year.

County taxpayers also were spared the expense of buying the sophisticated C.O.B.R.A. data system, an up-to-the-second database that catalogs crimes, suspects, locations, vehicles and other information that are extremely useful in catching dangerous criminals. Molinelli offered to cover three years’ service, maintenance and licensing for any municipal police department interested. More than half accepted.

Having that much money to play with does have drawbacks. Molinelli two years ago considered using $1.3 million to buy a surveillance plane but decided against it after a slight rebuke by then-state Attorney General Paula Dow.

Now comes a major case that could swell the county coffers even more:

North Bergen prosecutor among those busted in Edgewater-based high-grade pot operation

One of the vehicles seized in the weekend pot bust, the Audi R8, requires 70 workers to fit 5,000 unique parts by hand. It’s used for racing and has been said to match — and even beat — the Porsche 997, considered the top of its class.

It also lists at nearly $110,000 — used.

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo)

The R8’s virtual twin is the Lamborghini Gllardo — named after a fighting bull — which has a V10 engine that pushes it from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds.

It starts at $175,000.

Still, the two cars represent only a portion of the assets seized by Molinelli’s detectives over the weekend, mostly at the pricey St. Moritz apartment complex just off Gorge Road overlooking Edgewater from two men the prosecutor dubbed “high-level traffickers.”

The haul included a Rolls Royce, Maserati and Mercedes Benz, as well as $250,000 in cash and designer watches, a Range Rover and an Infiniti.

Rolls Royce doesn’t make a car that sells for less than $330,000. Even a used Maserati can run $130,000. And Mercedes’ MSRPs range from $33,000 to more than $210,000.

Infiniti prices average roughly $50,000. Even a beaten-up Range Rover can fetch $75,000.

Do the math, and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office is looking at a conservative estimate of $1.2 million. — $750,000 of it from the vehicles alone.

The seizures are legitimate. Under both federal and state civil forfeiture law, authorities can confiscate anything they believe was either used in a crime or was obtained as a result, from cars to houses to bank accounts – even the money a defendant pays his or her lawyer.

It’s been done in prostitution and shoplifting cases but, most often, it involves drug networks.

The owner doesn’t even have to be found criminally guilty. It’s up to that person to prove the assets were obtained legally.

In most cases, that doesn’t happen.

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