Drug Ringleader that Brought Millions of Dollars of
Heroin and Cocaine to New Jersey Appears in Court
Investigation Led to the Convictions of Two Former New Jersey State Troopers
JUL 20 -- (NEWARK) After nearly three years on the run, the kingpin of a notorious drug ring that was responsible for bringing upwards of 250 kilos heroin into the United States annually was arraigned inside a Union County courtroom this morning, announced Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow. The street level for each kilo was worth roughly $1 million, said Romankow.
Alejandro Cleves, DOB: 2/27/1980 was born in Medellin, Colombia but moved to Union County when he was 7-years-old. He continued to reside in the county until 2003, when he fled to South America, to avoid prosecution on drug distribution charges.
Upon returning to Colombia he began arranging deliveries of high quality, low cost heroin to the United States, through parties he met while living in New Jersey.
“He quickly moved from being a low level dealer in the U.S. to a significant trafficker in Colombia,” said Romankow.
In early 2005, the Union County Prosecutors Office in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted one of the largest and most successful wiretaps in New Jersey law enforcement history—a wiretap investigation that resulted in 21 people being charged under indictment. It was through those investigations that police learned the existence and identity of Cleves.
To date, the cases concerning all other co-defendants, with the exception of Cleves, have resulted in convictions with sentences of up to 24 years in prison.
Last September, Cleves was charged in a nine count superceding indictment returned by a Union County Grand Jury.
The nine count indictment includes charges of first degree racketeering, first degree conspiracy to commit racketeering, first degree leader of a narcotics trafficking network, second degree financial facilitation of criminal activity (money laundering), and five separate counts of first degree distribution of heroin, said Romankow.
Cleves is being held in lieu of $3 million bail at the Union County Jail. If convicted on all the charges, Cleves could face up to 170 years in prison.
The Prosecutor’s Office worked closely with Colombian authorities over the last several years to get Cleves on American soil and into a courtroom.
In fact, Prosecutor Romankow traveled to Colombia last year with Special Agent in Charge Gerard P. McAleer of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey office and two members of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
The Prosecutor discussed apprehension efforts with Colombian Attorney General Iguaran Arana, General Oscar Naranjo, of the Colombian National Police and Regional Director Jay Bergman of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We were convinced they shared our assessment of how significant Cleves was to heroin distribution in New Jersey. Colombian officials were impressed with the quantity and quality of heroin Cleves had been smuggling into the United States, and committed their help in apprehending him,” said Romankow.
While in Colombia Romankow and his staff were educated on the efforts of the DEA and the Colombia government in the interdiction of drug cartels and major drug dealers. They met with numerous other Colombian officials and learned first hand about the judicial and executive efforts to stop the exportation of illegal drug from Colombia to the United States.
However the main focus of the meetings, said Romankow, was to express the strong desire to capture Cleves and have him returned to Union County to face charges.
“Following our meeting, I was pleased that Attorney General Arana, General Naranjo, and Regional Director Bergman assured us that they would apprehend and extradite Alejandro Cleves. We are certainly pleased with results of their efforts.”
The break came on Aug. 11, 2008 when Cleves was arrested without incident by law enforcement officials in Medellin. After days of surveillance, agents were able to positively identify Cleves as the major heroin trafficker wanted in the United States.
Gerard P. McAleer, Drug Enforcement Administration New Jersey Division, Special Agent in Charge stated, “DEA utilized its global reach together with our local law enforcement and Colombian National Police partners in a collaborative effort to dismantle and apprehend Alejandro Cleves. This arrest once again demonstrates that drug kingpins who remain outside the United States will be vigorously pursued and brought to justice.”
Cleves was returned to New Jersey on Thursday afternoon by the U.S. Marshall’s Service, after extradition orders were approved.
““The successful apprehension and extradition of this dangerous fugitive to face justice back in the United States is a perfect example of the cooperation between international, federal and local law enforcement. I thank every officer involved for their outstanding investigative efforts and, in particular, congratulate our partners in the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department,” said James T. Plousis the United States Marshal of the District of New Jersey.
The investigation initially focused on Wilson Valdez of Elizabeth, New Jersey, who was a major heroin and cocaine trafficker in the State. What started as a wiretap of two telephones grew to 54 telephones, and detectives learned that Wilson Valdez was only one of at least four or five major traffickers in Union and Essex Counties who were receiving kilogram quantities of heroin from Cleves. Additionally, it was learned that Cleves' distribution network operated throughout various parts of the United States.
After investigators raided Cleves’ mother’s house in Union, they discovered more than $300,000 in cash. Nidia Roldan, Cleves’ mother, later pled guilty to money laundering.
Even after the arrest of his close associates and family in New Jersey in 2005, Alejandro Cleves continued to operate his international drug distribution network. Members of the Union County Prosecutor's Office and other law enforcement agencies continued to track his activities and ultimately conducted an additional wiretap in 2007 where Alejandro Cleves was again identified as the primary source of supply for a New Jersey based heroin distribution organization.
The drugs brought into New Jersey from Colombia were distributed throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, according to prosecutors. It is estimated that Valdez distributed between 3 and 6 kilos of heroin – supplied by Cleves -- and significant amounts of cocaine every week during his dubious tenure.
The wiretap investigation was conducted with the full support and cooperation of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and the Colombian Attorney General’s Office and the results were beneficial to all.
“The wiretap allowed us to identify the Colombian source of supply and the methods of importation into the United States,” said Romankow.
Some of the intercepted conversations even involved discussions between Cleves and Valdez about hiring a lawyer to represent two of their drug distributors who had been arrested for accepting a shipment of 2.4 kilos of heroin.
The wiretap was originated through leads developed by Union County Prosecutor’s Office. During the four months the wiretap was in effect, over 60 detectives from the UCPO and other federal, state and local agencies monitored the conversations around the clock.
The investigation also revealed the involvement of a New Jersey State Trooper in the drug ring. Moises Hernandez used his position as an undercover agent for the state to warn Valdez that he was under surveillance. In April 2006, Hernandez pled guilty to money laundering, witness tampering, conspiracy and official misconduct and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The investigation continued into the conduct of another State Trooper assigned to the Narcotics Unit. Detective Brian Holmes was arrested and later convicted by a jury of first-degree distribution of cocaine for his role in stealing five kilograms of cocaine from a State Police Seizure, among other charges, said Romankow.
“This day has been a long time coming,” said Romankow. “A lot of man power went into the capture of Alejandro Cleves. Now, work begins to ensure he will spend a significant time in jail for his crimes.”
These criminal charges are mere accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.