Atlantic City’s Violent Crime Task Force foiled a murder plot and took down a major drug-trafficking gang that — along with its alleged rival Dirty Blok — was responsible for a majority of gun violence in the city, officials said Tuesday.
Fourteen alleged 800 Blok members were taken into custody, with the help of Atlantic City’s SWAT team, as part of Operation Blok Buster during raids throughout the city early Tuesday. The raids were conducted seven weeks after a separate federal investigation charged 34 people with being connected to Dirty Blok’s alleged heroin-trafficking ring.
A total of 28 people have been charged in Operation Blok Buster, which targeted 800 Blok GMD — named for its base in the city’s Back Maryland section and its alleged mantra of “guns, money, drugs.”
Seven men are being sought, while another seven were already in custody. Among those previously jailed was Shawn Pettis, 28, an allegedly high-ranking member of the gang who planned to kill an unnamed man at an Atlantic County hotel, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.
Pettis bought a stolen .380-caliber handgun with the goal of murder when the Task Force tipped off other law-enforcement agencies, Chiesa said. On Feb. 6, Absecon police stopped a car in which Pettis was a passenger and found the gun in his waistband, according to the report.
Another alleged member, Razzaq Shannon, 21, also was arrested in February. He was charged with murder in the July killing of Christon Hargrove, 21, who was shot twice in the head in the 800 block of North Virginia Avenue, the alleged gang’s territory.
The arrests of both gangs could hold the key to other open homicides, although acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said he would not comment on specifics.
“The arrests certainly don’t hurt,” he said. “There is that possibility.”
The battle between the two gangs allegedly resulted in at least one death of someone not involved in criminal activity. Jose Ortiz, 59, was riding his bike from his mother’s Stanley Holmes Village apartment Sept. 6, when he was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle on Rosemont Court. No one has been arrested.
After the Dirty Blok arrests in March, McClain said an arrest could come soon, but would not comment on the case Tuesday.
Undercover officers began the “Blok Buster” investigation by buying cocaine “deep within the confines of the gang’s turf, which is very difficult to infiltrate,” Chiesa said. That led to other ways to penetrate the gang, including various types of surveillance.
“They call themselves the 800 Blok gang, but they don’t confine their drug dealing and violence to one block or even one section of Atlantic City,” Chiesa said. “Instead, they are the driving force behind a majority of the gang-related shooting and homicides plaguing the city, along with the rival Dirty Blok gang.”
This is why the Atlantic City Task Force was formed, consisting of officers from the Division of Criminal Justice, State Police, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department and the Atlantic City Police Department. The task force has made more than 400 arrests and recovered more than 50 guns since it began 19 months ago, Chiesa said.
“We know and the residents know that where there is drug dealing, there will also be violence,” Chiesa said.
Atlantic City police Chief Ernest Jubilee said children can now safely play outside, where that wasn’t an option before.
“It just multiplies the safety of the city,” he said.
“It’s one more example of the unified commitment of various agencies in making Atlantic City a cleaner and safer place for those who live here, work here and visit here,” Public Safety Director Will Glass said.
“This is an example of seamless law-enforcement efforts and how the entire criminal justice system is engaged in making Atlantic City safer,” said State Parole Board Chairman Jim Plousis, whose office was also credited with assisting in the investigation.
Among those charged Tuesday, Pettis, Asmar Coley, 34, Shawn Williams, 30, and Lawrence Rooks, 25, are considered high-volume cocaine distributors and face first-degree charges that carry 10 to 20 years in state prison, Chiesa said. Shannon is jailed on $1 million bail and faces life in prison on the murder charge. Pettis is also charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit murder along with weapons offenses, and is jailed on $750,000 cash bail.
Also previously jailed were Rasan McGee, 22, Mark Robinson, 18, Dominec Robinson, 23, and Marshall Coley, 24, for heroin distribution, along with Kareem Rex, 18, who was charged with obstruction of justice.
Taken in Tuesday morning were Rooks, Williams, Asmar Cooley, Robert Creek, Vanuel Gray, Shahied Page, Isiah Pettis, Rashad Stephens, Aarod Moore, Derrick Deans, Keith Cundiff, Derick Johnson, Robert Davis and Julius Bing.
Still sought are Leon Henry, Eric Teasley, Samuel Dunmore, Javar Bing and Keith Jackson, as well as two men known only as Marcus and K.
The investigation was led by Atlantic City Detective Henry White III and Detective Brian Graybill, of the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Jim Ruberton and Assistant Atlantic County Prosecutor Erik Bergman will prosecute the case.
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