The Union County Prosecutor’s Office (UCPO), under new leadership since the July 18, 2019 swearing in of acting Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, has created a new Major Crimes Division with the goal of fostering a more collaborative approach to investigating crime and keeping Union County residents safe.
Over the course of the past five months, aided by the support of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Union County Police Chiefs Association, Ruotolo has reorganized the Prosecutor’s Office forming a new leadership team, creating several new units, and designating a third division within the office, the Major Crimes Division, to supplement the two existing Investigative and Trial Divisions.
The productivity of the new UCPO Major Crimes Division has been felt since its inception. Last week, for instance, the Intelligence-Driven Prosecution Unit, one of the newly created units which make up the Major Crimes Division, assisted the Cranford Police Department in bringing an armed robbery investigation to a successful conclusion. Thursday, in the early morning hours, personnel from the Major Crimes Division, Union County SWAT, and the Cranford and Linden Police Departments coordinated to execute search warrants on several locations throughout the county, uncovering evidence relating to the December 15, 2019 armed robbery of the newly opened Quick Chek, located at 370 North Avenue in Cranford. Among the evidence recovered was a handgun matching the weapon used during the robbery. As a result, three people have been arrested and charged with first-degree armed robbery and weapons offenses.
That same week, the Opioid Task Force, also part of the Major Crimes Division, successfully concluded an investigation into a narcotics distribution scheme. Coordinating with Union County SWAT, the unit executed a search warrant on a residence in Roselle that resulted in the arrest of one suspect for multiple second-degree drug offenses.
Meanwhile, today saw the sentencing of Gary L. Brown, Jr., who had previously pled guilty to one count of first-degree possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute. The Honorable Regina Caulfield, P.J.Cr., sentenced Brown to 10 years in state prison, all 10 of which must be served before Brown is eligible for parole. The case was investigated by yet another unit of the Major Crimes Division, namely the Cyber Crime Task Force, which was able to connect Brown to multiple Tumblr accounts containing child pornography after forensically analyzing a tablet computer which Brown had attempted to physically destroy.
The Major Crimes Division encompasses the newly formed Intelligence Driven Prosecution Unit and Opioid Task Force, as well as the Cyber Crime Task Force, and the newly expanded Counter-Terrorism Unit. The Intelligence-Driven Prosecution Unit, comprised of members of the legal and investigative staff, as well as civilian intelligence analysts and a geographic information system mapping specialist, utilizes a combination of traditional and technologically advanced investigative techniques to identify, investigate, and prosecute, individuals and organizations, such as gangs, drug trafficking enterprises, and hate groups, responsible for violence planned or erupting in Union County communities. The Intelligence Driven Prosecution Unit works closely with officers appointed to serve as Intel Liaisons from each department within Union County to share information and then proactively act on the information gathered as one united force.
The IDPU and its municipal partners benefit from the expertise of the other units that fall within the Major Crimes Division. For example, Ruotolo formed the Opioid Task Force to implement a response to the opioid epidemic that is empathetic and holistic in its approach to the public health crisis, while also aggressive and strategic in its pursuit of those who profit from poisoning the people her Office is charged with protecting. The two units work closely with one another as there is often overlap in the intelligence gathered by one and the mission of the other.
Ruotolo’s newly implemented liaison approach facilitates better information sharing and collaboration across the county’s twenty-four law enforcement agencies and the UCPO investigative staff. The more than 70 detectives who work for the Prosecutor’s Office fall under the leadership of Prosecutor Ruotolo, Chief Patricia Gusmano, sworn in on November 1, 2019, and Captain Jorge Jimenez, who will be sworn in as Deputy Chief next month but already holds the position in an acting capacity. The Major Crimes Division is led by Lieutenant Gary Webb and Assistant Prosecutor, and former Police Chief, Peter DeRose.
In praising the work of the brave officers from the Cranford and Linden Police Departments, the Union County SWAT Team, and that of her own investigative staff, Ruotolo said “these are the precise results I envisioned and hoped for when our Office launched the Major Crimes Division, these new units, and the liaison program. I am deeply appreciative of the work and leadership of my staff and my fellow law enforcement executives here in Union County, who despite years of transition in the Prosecutor’s Office, have embraced the collaborative and modern approach this new model establishes. The byproduct is better teamwork, more impactful investigations, and a safer community for the people we are all sworn to serve and protect.”