Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino today announced that Stephon Johnson, 37, of Newark was sentenced to 12 years in New Jersey State Prison for narcotics and weapons charges resulting from his January 2009 arrest by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office VIPER Unit. Johnson was a prime target of a long-term investigation dubbed “Operation Trifecta”
Johnson pleaded guilty to possession and distribution of cocaine and a weapons offense in February 2010. Today, the Honorable Denise A. Cobham, J.S.C., imposed a 12-year sentence on Johnson.
Johnson was one of 24 defendants indicted by an Essex County Grand Jury after a long-term investigation conducted by the Prosecutor’s VIPER Unit, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and the Maplewood, Newark, Orange and South Orange police departments.
“After the investigative stage was completed, the Prosecutor’s VIPER Unit mounted a vigorous prosecution and it resulted in this sentence,’’ said Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas S. Fennelly.
The investigation began in August 2008 when detectives from the VIPER Unit developed intelligence that members of the Bloods street gang were selling large quantities of cocaine and heroin in Newark and surrounding areas. An undercover detective from the VIPER Unit was able to infiltrate the operation and eventually purchase cocaine and heroin from Johnson on numerous occasions while the investigation was underway. In addition to the use of an undercover detective, the Prosecutor’s Office employed other investigative means including physical and electronic surveillance.
Authorities seized more than 500 grams of cocaine and 100 grams of heroin during the investigation. Three semi-automatic handguns and more than $60,000 were also seized.
Johnson has been in custody since his arrest on weapons and narcotics charges. Consequently, he will be given credit for the 458 days he has been incarcerated. Judge Cobham also sentenced Johnson to a concurrent three-year sentence for an unrelated aggravated assault charge resulting from an altercation that occurred while Johnson was in custody at the Essex County Correctional Facility. The case was prosecuted by Fennelly, who is assigned to the VIPER Unit, and Assistant Prosecutor Purva Deshpande.