A Union County grand jury has returned a 49-count indictment against 14 people connected to a street gang responsible for multiple incidents of identity theft, tax fraud, illegal production of fake debit and gift cards, drug sales, and gun violence – including a March 2015 murder – taking place across the county during the last year and a half, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Monday.
All of the 14 defendants were indicted under New Jersey’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The defendants were arrested in March following a seven-month joint investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office’s Guns, Gangs, Drugs, and Violent Crimes Task Force and the Elizabeth Police Department.
The investigation initially revealed that members and associates of Elizabeth’s 111 Neighborhood Crips street gang had become engaged in a pattern of white-collar crime, specifically through participation in two separate scams.
Through the first of the two scams, defendants allegedly would buy stolen identities of real people, prepare fraudulent W-2 forms, and submit fraudulent income tax returns early in the tax season; this way, the defendants would collect tax refunds they were not entitled to long before the identity theft victims realized that their personal information had been stolen. This scheme affected dozens of victims and generated tens of thousands of dollars in illegally obtained funds.
To execute the second scam, the defendants allegedly obtained a machine they used to create fake gift cards and prepaid debit cards, which they in turn used in stores throughout New Jersey; a search of an East Orange home led to the seizure of the card-making machine as well as hundreds of gift cards and prepaid debit cards and two handguns.
The alleged financial crimes were committed not only to support the lifestyles of the individuals involved in the scheme, but also to provide for the expenses of the incarcerated members of the 111s, such as bail money, commissary accounts, and attorneys’ fees.
Leading members of the gang who were indicted included Elizabeth residents Gregory Torres, aka “Young Hood,” 20, Arthur Negron Jr., aka “Smooth,” 24, Walter Daniels, aka “S.K.,” 25, Malcolm Cooks, aka “Cool C,” 26, and Lamont Johnson, aka “Fatty-O,” 27, plus Abdul Ward, aka “Three Shot,” 24, of Plainfield and Shakir Scott, aka “Beezy,” 30, of Newark. All seven defendants were indicted on charges of first-degree racketeering conspiracy and other offenses.
Negron additionally was indicted on charges of second-degree serving as a leader of organized crime, third-degree fraudulent use of a credit card, third-degree theft by deception, third-degree identity theft, and several weapons offenses.
Daniels additionally was indicted on charges of first-degree attempted murder for a July 2014 shooting of two men in Roselle, first-degree gang criminality, second-degree serving as a leader of organized crime, second-degree promoting organized street crime, and several weapons offenses.
Johnson additionally was indicted on charges of second-degree bribery of a witness, second-degree serving as a leader of organized crime, second-degree promoting organized street crime, third-degree fraudulent use of a credit card, and a fourth-degree drug charge.
Ward additionally was indicted on charges of first-degree murder for the March 12, 2015 fatal shooting of 31-year-old Wilson Valdez of Plainfield, first-degree attempted murder, second-degree aggravated assault, third-degree theft by deception, and several weapons offenses.
Seven associates of the gang who were indicted included Elizabeth residents Monte Foster, 29, Erica Williams, 27, and Willie Williams, 57, plus 22-year-old Nygera Arrington and 22-year-old Jamar Montgomery of East Orange, 23-year-old Katrina Davis of Newark, and 42-year-old Arthur Negron Sr. of Roselle.
All of the associates but Erica Williams and Willie Williams were indicted on charges of second-degree racketeering, second-degree racketeering conspiracy, and third-degree theft by deception. Arrington and Davis additionally were indicted on charges of third-degree fraudulent use of a credit card in relation to the credit card fraud scheme, while Foster, Negron Sr., Erica Williams, and Willie Williams also were indicted on drug charges.
Bail for Daniels was set at $1.2 million, while Johnson, Ward, Negron Jr. and Negron Sr. received bails of $1 million apiece. Bails for the other defendants ranged from $200,000 to $700,000.
First-degree crimes can yield penalties of 10 to 20 years in state prison, while second-degree crimes often result in terms of 5 to 10 years.
These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.