Operation Florida Keys Results in 16 Arrests and Seizure of Drugs, Guns, and Cash
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey Division Susan A. Gibson, Police Chief of the Atlantic City PD James A. Sarkos, Atlantic County Prosecutor William Reynolds, and Executive Director of the Liberty Mid-Atlantic HIDTA Jeremiah Daley announced a months-long investigation into the distribution of narcotics resulted in the arrest of 16 individuals and the recovery of multiple handguns and a large quantity of drugs in Atlantic City, NJ.
On November 14, 2022, the Atlantic City Police Department, with assistance from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, DEA Atlantic City Resident Office, and the Liberty Mid-Atlantic DEA Atlantic County HIDTA Task Force, completed an investigation into a drug distribution network operating in the area of Florida Avenue, the Ducktown section of Atlantic City, and surrounding areas.
The network, led by brothers Joseph and Justin Suarez, utilized a series of stash locations and street level dealers to distribute cocaine, fentanyl, and heroin in Atlantic City. According to the New Jersey State Police’s Drug Monitoring Initiative, this particular brand of heroin/fentanyl, known as ‘Bad Bunny’, has been linked to at least 25 overdoses including 8 fatalities. It was through the collaborative efforts of the various agencies involved that this deadly drug distribution network was dismantled.
The operation culminated in the execution of ten (10) residential search warrants in the aforesaid area of Atlantic City and throughout Atlantic County. The operation and execution of the search warrants resulted in the seizure of approximately 785 bricks or 39,250 individual wax folds of packaged heroin/fentanyl, approximately 7 ounces of cocaine, four handguns, one of which was determined to be a ‘ghost gun’ and another determined to be stolen, various firearm ammunition, miscellaneous amounts of crack cocaine and suspected fentanyl pills, and approximately $86,650 in US currency, believed to be proceeds of illegal narcotics sales. Sixteen arrests were made to include the two leaders of the organization, Joseph and Justin Suarez.
“The results of this investigation show once again that law enforcement is relentless when it comes to dismantling these drug trafficking organizations who choose to push poison into our communities,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New Jersey Division Susan A. Gibson. “We are also reminded by the seizure of several weapons that drug trafficking and violence go hand in hand. The arrests of the individuals in this investigation has made the Atlantic City area a little bit safer.”
“A cornerstone of the HIDTA program is enhancing the coordination and cooperation between Federal and State/local law enforcement agencies to increase public safety”, said Jeremiah Daley, Executive Director of the Liberty Mid-Atlantic High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (LMA HIDTA). “The devastation peddled by these criminal organizations, including violent crime and substance use disorders, hold our local community members hostage within their own neighborhoods. I commend the efforts of all the officers, special agents, and prosecutors involved in Operation Florida Keys to rid this area of the network involved in pushing tens of thousands of doses of poison onto the streets of Atlantic City and the surrounding areas.”
“This lengthy investigation with the ACPD, DEA and the Atlantic County Prosecutors office was successful using the most up to date technology and resources to bring this drug dealing organization to its knees and to a screeching halt,” said Atlantic County Prosecutor William Reynolds. “This sends a clear message to the community, Be on Notice, this conduct will not be tolerated. We will continue to work together and aggressively prosecute those who put this poison on the streets. This was truly a team effort of thousands of hours of hard work to execute Operation Florida Keys. We are grateful for the opportunity to be of service.”
"I am extremely proud of our outstanding police department,” said Mayor Marty Small. “We are continuing to show our dedication and commitment to cleaning up our city and making it a safer place to both live and visit. I want to also thank the multiple law enforcement agencies that assisted in ending this drug distribution network. Drugs and violence have no place in our city. The work does not stop here."
“I am extremely proud of the hard work and dedication of all the agencies and officers who worked this investigation, resulting in the dismantling of a drug trafficking organization that was terrorizing our neighborhoods,” said Chief James Sarkos. “The officers’ tireless efforts have made a remarkable difference in the Ducktown neighborhood. The Atlantic City Police Department will continue to work with all of our partners at the local, county, state and federal levels to aggressively target these criminal groups.”
New Jersey State charges against those arrested include:
ARRESTED: Justin Suarez, 37, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Joseph Suarez, 37, of Atlantic City.
CHARGES: First-degree leader of a narcotics trafficking network, third-degree unlawful possession of CDS (3 counts), second-degree conspiracy to distribute CDS (3 counts), first-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute (2 counts), second-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute, and third-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity.
ARRESTED: James Dimeo, 59, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Howard Cubbage, 57, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Safiya Braxton, 36, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Arcadia Ridley, 32, of Absecon, NJ.
ARRESTED: Maurice Braxton, 34, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Keith Potter, 60, of Galloway, NJ.
CHARGES: Third-Degree Unlawful Possession of CDS (3 counts), second-degree conspiracy to distribute CDS (3 counts), first-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute CDS (2 counts), second-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute, third-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity.
ARRESTED: Lydia Santana, 31, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Terrea Acosta, 55, of Atlantic City.
ARRESTED: Brianna Perez, 30, of Atlantic City.
CHARGES: Second-degree conspiracy to distribute CDS (3 counts) and third-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity.
ARRESTED: Michael Howell, 35, of Atlantic City.
CHARGES: Fourth-degree unlawful possession of marijuana, third-degree possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, and third-degree distribution of marijuana.
ARRESTED: Jose Perez Paredes, 29, of Philadelphia, PA.
ARRESTED: Yoao Jerez-Tejada, 37, of Philadelphia, PA.
CHARGES: First-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute CDS, second-degree conspiracy to distribute CDS, unlawful possession of CDS, third-degree unlawful possession of CDS, third-degree distribution of CDS on or near school property.
ARRESTED: Orlando Peguero-Perez, 36, of West New York, NJ.
CHARGES: Second-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute, second-degree distribution of CDS within 500ft of Public Property, unlawful possession of CDS, third-degree distribution of CDS On or near school property, and third-degree money laundering.
ARRESTED: Malik Lyons, 22, of Egg Harbor Township, NJ.
CHARGES: Second-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute, third-degree unlawful possession of CDS, first-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, possession of a handgun without a having first obtained a permit, second-degree possession of a firearm while committing a CDS offense, certain persons not to possess a firearm, and fourth-degree receiving stolen property.