Plainfield man sentenced to 27.5 years for fatal shooting of innocent bystander

Plainfield man has been sentenced to 27 years and six months in state prison for a shooting that took the life of an innocent bystander in 2015, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced Monday.

Abdul Ward, 26, must serve at least 85 percent of that sentence before the possibility of parole, in accordance with New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, under the terms set down Friday by state Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, 2015, Plainfield Police Division patrol units rushed to the 600 block of Berckman Street on a report of a drive-by shooting, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Jeremiah Lenihan, who prosecuted the case. 31-year-old Wilson Valdez, who had been working in a nearby convenience store at the time, was struck by gunfire and pronounced dead shortly thereafter, Lenihan said.

The arriving patrol units spotted a suspect vehicle leaving the scene, and a brief pursuit ended when the vehicle collided with an SUV at the intersection of Central Avenue and West Sixth Street. A handgun was recovered from the vehicle, and Ward was taken into custody. Two occupants of the SUV and three pedestrians in the area at the time were treated for non life-threatening injuries.

A Union County Homicide Task Force investigation revealed that Ward, a confirmed member of the Elizabeth-based 111 N.H.C. (Neighborhood Crips) street gang, fired a total of eight shots targeting a local drug dealer when Valdez was killed.

Just days after the shooting, Ward and about a dozen other defendants were charged with racketeering and numerous other crimes as the result of a long-term Prosecutor’s Office’s Guns, Gangs, Drugs, and Violent Crimes Task Force investigation into the gang’s activities.

That investigation resulted in a 49-count indictment returned under New Jersey’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, targeting the defendants for their roles in incidents of identity theft, tax fraud, illegal production of fake debit and gift cards, and drug sales. The primary target of the investigation and gang leader, 27-year-old Arthur Negron of Elizabeth, ultimately pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree racketeering and continues to await sentencing.

Ten of the defendants in all were sentenced or are awaiting sentencing to state prison terms, as Ward’s manslaughter plea in December 2017 marked one of the case’s last criminal charges to be adjudicated.