Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato says he has a message for an Atlantic City man charged with causing the overdose death of 26-year-old Steven Janson by allegedly selling him heroin in April.
“Just come home. We’re going to bring you back anyway, so you should just come home now,” Coronato said of 22-year-old Rasan S. McGee, for whom authorities have been looking since an Ocean County grand jury indicted him on manslaughter charges and for allegedly causing the drug-induced death.
McGee was charged under the strict liability for drug death statute — a rarely used drug law on the books since 1986, but one Ocean County has begun using to combat a rise in fatal drug overdoses.
Ocean County, which has had 96 fatal overdoses this year, has charged three men with providing fatal overdoses, while Cape May County, which has reported 24 overdose deaths this year, has charged one.
Atlantic County has seen 81 fatal drug overdoses, but has not used the statute.
“This is not a war on drugs, but a fight for survival,” Coronato said.
McGee, an alleged Atlantic City gang member, was arrested last week in Georgia and is fighting his extradition to New Jersey, Coronato said. But that won’t stop New Jersey from bringing back McGee, whom Coronato called a “harbinger of death.”
“If you run, we’re going to get you. We knew we were going to get him (McGee). And we are prepared to use a governor’s warrant to bring him back here,” Coronato said.
A governor’s warrant is issued when one state seeks extradition of a wanted prisoner in another state.
While McGee is incarcerated in Georgia he is not receiving credit for time served, Coronato said.
McGee was arrested on drug charges in April after Janson, of Stafford Township, was found dead in his car in Barnegat Township. McGee was free on bail when the strict liability charge was filed; a $250,000 bail warrant was then issued for his arrest.
On Tuesday, another Ocean County man pleaded guilty to manslaughter and possession of heroin in the Jan. 17 heroin overdose death of Raymond Farino, 27
Sentencing for Kenneth W. Staunton, 33, of Lacey Township, who was indicted in June under the strict liability statute, is scheduled for Jan. 10. Coronato said the state will seek an eight-year sentence under the No Early Release Act for the manslaughter charge and a four-year concurrent sentence for the heroin possession charge.
Last week, Kenneth Novak, 40, of Whiting, became the third man charged this year by Ocean County authorities under the strict liability for drug death statute. Authorities allege that Novak sold a prescription narcotic that contributed to the death of 32-year-old Matthew Georgi, of Stafford Township.
The 96 people who have died in Ocean County from drug overdoses this year is an increase from 53 in 2012.
The push to dust off the long-existing law came after nine people died of heroin overdoses in eight days in Ocean County. Coronato said his office has at least two more cases that could be prosecuted under the statute.
“There's no question this is challenging. I expect a challenge, but this office is ready to meet that challenge,” he said of pursuing prosecution under the statute.
Coronato said Ocean County law enforcement has worked closely with Atlantic County authorities to combat the crisis. In May, he formed a task force to prosecute the heroin influx.
About 40 percent of the drugs, including heroin, are coming from Atlantic County, Coronato said.
Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said his agency has not found an appropriate case to use the charge.
“You may be able to trace the drug back to the source based upon the scene, but generally you need the scene and witness testimony, you can't just run it down to a brand.” McClain said. “When drugs are sold on the streets, the brand doesn't really show anything. You have to run it back to an individual.”
This process is further complicated because drug sale transactions are activities that occur out of sight, he said.
“We're trying to bust the sellers, and we're trying to arrest people as a way to put a sword over their head to get them into treatment so they don't become that next statistic,” he said.
“These are statistics which reflect a society-wide problem that cuts across all aspects and spectrum of society. As a law enforcement member I am concerned about it, as a parent I am concerned about it and as a member of the community I am concerned,” McClain said.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the fatal drug overdoses are of great concern.
The war on drugs is the longest war the United States has ever fought and the country is losing it, Levinson said.
In Cape May County, Prosecutor Robert Taylor said Alina Walton, of Wildwood, was charged under the strict liability for drug death statute and will be sentenced Friday.
This year, Cape May County has seen 24 drug overdose deaths and 99 overdoses, Taylor said.
“We have several ongoing investigations that may lead to strict liability charges,” he said.
This is not the first time Cape May County authorities pursued prosecution under the statute.
In 2006, Aneudy Cruz-Vega and Hector Ramos-Collazo were both charged with strict liability for a drug-induced death in connection to the fatal heroin overdose of Johanna Ayala, 24, of Wildwood.
Staff Writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
Contact Donna Weaver:
@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter