Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Drug Overlord's Guilty Plea Inmplicates Co-Conspirators

By Alicia Cruz
The Black Urban Times

The guilty plea by a man prosecutors say led a $1 million a week drug operation in New Jersey implicated several co-conspirators who later entered guilty pleas in Monmouth Superior Court Monday.

The guilty pleas come on the heels of Vicente Esteves' own guilty plea. He is the man prosecutors say was the drug overlord of a racketeering enterprise that smuggled in approximately 1,000 kilograms of cocaine throughout the U.S. and other countries, including the Dominican Republic.

Michael Lopez, 36, and Hector Rodriguez, 41, both of Perth Amboy, and Cesar Cabrera-Cepeda, 40, of Old Bridge entered guilty pleas before Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci admitting to aiding Esteves, of Manalapan, in laundering money from drug sales throughout New Jersey and other states.

All three men are currently free on bail.

Lopez pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors will ask that he be sentenced to time served and placed on probation for one to five years.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree racketeering, first-degree drug possession and first-degree money laundering in exchange for Prosecutor's recommending a 12 year prison sentence with a stipulation that he only serve five years of that sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Cabrera-Cepeda, a native of the Dominican Republic, agreed to plead guilty to one count of third-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering in exchange for acceptance into the pretrial intervention program. It is possible Cabrera-Cepeda, who has been living in the United States legally, will be deported back to his country because of his guilty plea.

On March 25, Esteves admitted in open court to running the massive cocaine operation and laundering the proceeds which financed his lavish lifestyle including owning a beautiful home in a gated suburban community, buying his wife expensive shoes and 100 Rolex watches for himself.

As Esteves pleaded guilty to his role in the drug operation, which pumped cocaine into Louisiana, Texas, Florida and three counties in New Jersey from the Dominican Republic through it's major artery, Atlanta, he implicated his co-conspirators leaving them no choice but to seek plea deals from Monmouth County prosecutors.

Esteves' implications excluded his wife, Chantal Esteves, who has been charged with conspiracy and money laundering as well. She was also present in the courtroom when her husband pleaded guilty.

Esteves faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration formed "Operation Unbounded" after being tipped off in 2007 to the massive drug ring ran by Esteves.

Esteves, his wife and the three men were among 16 people arrested as a result of the operation which resulted in the seizure of 150 pounds of cocaine and approximately $2 million cash. The drugs had a street value of about $2 million.

Among those swept up in the 38-count indictment was Dennis Krousos, a prominent accountant and mortgage banker who is part-owner of The Pines Manor Banquet Hall and the Skylark restaurant in Edison.

Krousos, 45, was indicted on charges of racketeering and money laundering.

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