YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An accused ringleader of a high-level, high-grade marijuana network that shipped nearly $4 million of product to Edgewater, Brooklyn and elsewhere from a region of northern California known as the Emerald Triangle turned himself in to authorities today.
Danny Saleh, 34, of Cliffside Park was accompanied by defense attorney Brian Neary when he voluntarily surrendered this morning, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
Saleh is being held on $250,000 in the Bergen County Jail, charged with drug trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering and financial facilitation.
Investigators made a string of arrests over the weekend in connection with the takedown. Those charged include Marcanton “Marc” Macri, 44, who works as municipal prosecutor in North Bergen and for years has been Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s law partner.
Still at large this morning was Lee Aviles, 35, of New Milford, identified by Molinelli as a customer.
Like Macri, Saleh lives in the pricey St. Moritz high-rise off Gorge Road in Edgewater. He remains free on $50,000 bail, posted after he was charged with three counts of money laundering and financial facilitation.
“Obviously, no one in North Bergen had any indication that Mr. Macri was involved in anything like this,” Phil Swibinski, the North Bergen township spokesman, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT on Sunday. “He will be suspended without pay immediately.”
Arrested along with Macri was 43-year-old Matthew P. Martin, reportedly known as the “Federali,” in part because of a tinted-windowed vehicle he drove with law enforcement license plates, Molinelli said.
Martin keeps an apartments at the St. Moritz, as well. He was being held on $250,000 bail in the Bergen County Jail, charged with conspiring to distribute large quantities of marijuana, among other counts.
Charged, as well, were Richard Lozada, of 36 of Old Bridge — who, in addition to a similar drug charge, also faces illegal weapons possession counts — and Anthony Alberga, a 23-year-old assistant banker with the Bank of New Jersey in Fort Lee. The Cliffside Park High School and Montclair State University graduate lives on Summit Terrace in Cliffside Park, the prosecutor said.
Investigators seized six handguns — two that were stolen — vehicles that include a Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Mercedes Benz, $250,000 in cash and designer watches, as well as pot and two ounces of cocaine, Molinelli said.
“For the past two months, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office has been developing intelligence and information regarding the marijuana distribution activities of Matthew Martin and Danny Saleh,” the prosecutor said.
“Detectives learned that Martin and Saleh were travelling to Northern California into areas known in the drug world as the Emerald Triangle, so named because of the thick forests hidden in Mendocino County, Humboldt County, and Trinity County,” he said.
“This region is the largest area in the United States that produces cannabis for legal use by California residents.”
“Martin and Saleh were travelling to this region on a bi-monthly basis and taking 1-2 day trips, then returning to their residences in Edgewater,” Molinelli said. “While in Northern California, Martin and Saleh are suspected of meeting with their suppliers to purchase bulk marijuana.
“Martin and Saleh would then package and mask the high grade marijuana and proceed to overnight mail the packages utilizing numerous post offices in towns north of San Francisco,” the prosecutor said.
“Martin was utilizing addresses of associates of his that resided in Linden and Rahway to send his packages, while Saleh was sending his packages to associates of his in Edgewater and Brooklyn.”
Investigators believe Martin and Saleh shipped nearly 1,000 pounds of marijuana cross-country to themselves since the beginning of the year.
U.S. Postal Inspectors intercepted 100 pounds of high-grade mariunana with a street value of $400,000, Molinelli said.
“The high-grade marijuana they were purchasing appeared extremely profitable for Martin and Saleh, as they would then re-distribute it to their associates in the tri-state area, the prosecutor said.
Both kept apartments in Edgewater just off Gorge Road that rented for $5,000 a month, he said.
They also used Alberga, a local banker, to covert smaller denominations of cash to $100 bills, Molinelli said.
“Detectives believe the purpose of this exchange was to reduce the weight and bulk of the currency that Martin and Saleh were transporting through the airport during the trips to Northern California,” he said.
Alberga was released without bail, charged with money laundering and financial facilitation. Detectives were still seaching for Aviles.
Participating in the massive investigation and takedown, the prosecutor said, were:
the Bergen County Police Department;
the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department;
the Edgewater, Cliffside Park, New Milford, Linden, Old Bridge and Rahway police departments;
the Union and Middlesex County prosecutor’s offices;
the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.