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Recent NJ high court ruling weighed in Fort Lee seizure of heroin, stolen guns

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

ONLY ON CVP: A case involving the seizure of three pounds of heroin, two stolen handguns and other contraband from a Fort Lee apartment last year is being delayed while a recent higher court decision involving reasonable searches is considered.

Jose Rivas, 52, of the Bronx had been driving on a flat tire with hazard lights flashing on Hudson Terrace in front of a Palisades Interstate Parkway entrance/exit in May 2013 when a Fort Lee officer pulled up to help.

Contradictory explanations of where Rivas had been and where he was going led Fort Lee K9 Officer Rick Hernandez to call for backup and accompany Rivas to an apartment on the 4th floor of a building across the street, authorities said.

There Hernandez and the two backup officers spotted a gallon-sized ziplocking bag filled with blue glassine envelopes commonly used to package heroin.

A man inside tried closing the door, but Hernandez pushed it open, drew his service weapon and ordered everyone inside onto the floor, police said at the time.

Once inside, the team of officers “observed thousands of glassine envelopes with and without heroin throughout the apartment” in plain view, Police Chief Keith Bendul said.

The heroin they eventually seized was worth a quarter-million dollars on the street, authorities said.

Superior Court Judge James J. Guida rejected a request last month by attorneys for the four co-defendants to suppress evidence. A week later, the Appellate Division issued a ruling in another case that they said could have an effect on theirs.

Guida last week gave the lawyers time to resubmit their requests in the wake of the decision in State of New Jersey v. Jamil W. Rowson. He set an Oct. 6 hearing date.

In that case, the appellate court ruled that a New Jersey State Police trooper had insufficient cause to suspect that Rowson and a driver whom he was with were involved in criminal activity; that the driver’s consent wasn’t voluntary, and that the state couldn’t prove they would have found the evidence without the search.

The decision is expected to produce new guidelines for reasonable searches of cars by police.

Meanwhile, Rivas remains free on $150,000 bail, charged with no fewer than 20 offenses that include conspiracy, drug distribution and possession and weapons charges.

The apartment tenant, Juan Santana, remains free on $300,000 bail, posted two week after the raid and arrests. He faces nearly a dozen charges similar to Rivas as does William Jerez, of the Bronx, who posted $150,000 bail a little over a month after the raid and was released. The same goes for Roberto Perez-Garcia: various drug and weapons charges, free on $150,000 bail.

The final defendant, Yomaira Sencion, also posted $150,000 bail and was released a week later pending action on similar charges.

Authorities said Santana and Jerez were packaging heroin at a kitchen table while Sencion sat on a couch next to several bags of the drug.

A search warrant was obtained, with which police said they found:

  • 3,044 glassine envelopes, each filled with heroin (approx. 1 lb.);
  • a plastic bag containing more than 1 lb. of heroin;
  • another bag of heroin that combined the piles that Santana and Jerez were packaging (1 lb.);
  • nearly 10,000 empty glassine baggies;
  • 6 zip-locking baggies containing marijuana;
  • grinders, strainers, scales, boxes of empty glassine baggies, rubber bands and a food sealer;
  • A .44-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and a 9mm Taurus P111 handgun, along with a box of 9mm ammunition.

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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