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State v. Laramore

April 25, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
AARON LARAMORE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment Nos. 04-08-00134-S ASG and 06-04-00977-I ACP.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 24, 2008

Before Judges Wefing, Parker and R. B. Coleman.

After denial of his motion to suppress, defendant pled guilty to two indictments pursuant to a plea agreement. On Indictment 04-08-00134-S ASG, defendant pled guilty to first degree distribution of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1); and second degree possession with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5. He was sentenced on those charges to an aggregate term of twenty-three years subject to eight years parole ineligibility.

On Indictment 06-04-00977-I ACP, defendant pled guilty to second degree distribution of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1), and was sentenced to a term of seven and one-half years subject to three years, nine months parole ineligibility, to be served concurrently with the twenty-three year aggregate term imposed on the prior indictment.

These charges arose out of a large-scale investigation of a drug distribution ring by a joint task force of law enforcement personnel from the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ), the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office (ACPO) and the Atlantic City Police Department (ACPD). Twenty-two defendants were charged with racketeering conspiracy, drug possession and distribution, money laundering, weapons offenses and maintaining a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) facility.

The following facts are relevant to defendant's appeal. The State's investigation, dubbed "Lord Stanley," began in the Fall of 2003 and focused on the Stanley Homes Village, a public housing project in Atlantic City. Wiretaps were authorized for a number of individuals targeted in the investigation, including defendant. The original target of the investigation was Adam Bishop, for whom the first wiretap warrant was issued on November 17, 2003. That wiretap led investigators to Eddie Davis, for whom a wiretap warrant was issued on February 11, 2004. Information gathered from the Davis wiretap led the task force to Michael Wiggins, identified as Davis's drug supplier.

After a series of telephone calls between Bishop and an individual named "Rod" were intercepted pursuant to a wiretap warrant, a 1994 Ford Econoline van (Ford van) belonging to Bishop was found illegally parked in Atlantic City on January 31, 2004. After towing the Ford van from the intersection of Lexington and Connecticut Avenues, the task force made an application for a search warrant based upon the affidavit of Detective Christopher Barber.

Barber was the monitor for the Bishop wiretap. He attested that on January 31, 2004, he intercepted a call between Bishop and Rod:

During the conversation, "Rod" told Bishop that the police "came to the crib" complaining about a van. Bishop told "Rod" that he was going to have to move the van. They discussed whether the police were "regular cops." "Rod" told Bishop that he guessed that "they [were] on it." Bishop then called Joseph Frisby utilizing the same wireless telephone. During this conversation, Bishop told Frisby that the police were going to tow the van. Frisby responded that "we better move it then." Frisby asks Bishop whether he (Bishop) wants him (Frisby) to move the "joint." Bishop responds, "Yeah, we have to be careful when you move though."

Forty minutes later, another call from Bishop to Frisby was intercepted by Barber, during which "Frisby told Bishop that he and Sommad, believed to be Marcus Barnes, had moved the [Ford] van." Bishop asked where the van was moved and Frisby told him it was around the corner. Barber explained further that a "concerned citizen" filed a report on October 24, 2003 with Detective Mark Benjamin, stating:

Adam Bishop and Marcus Barnes . . . were in possession of a large quantity of CDS, specifically cocaine. The citizen stated that he/she was in the presence of Bishop and Barnes just moments prior to contacting Detective Benjamin. Furthermore, the citizen related that Marcus Barnes was also in possession of a silver handgun believed to be a .9mm handgun. The citizen stated that the CDS was being kept in a white Ford work van with ladder racks on the top. The description of this van matches the description of the subject white 1994 Ford Econoline van . . . in that this white van also has ladder racks on top.

Barber explained that surveillance personnel later discovered the Ford van parked illegally -- impeding the view of a stop sign -- on Lexington Avenue, Atlantic City, and that a summons for a parking violation was issued. The Ford van was then towed to the ACPD lot. On February 1, 2004, Barber brought his narcotics-detecting police dog (Gus) to the lot and began a sniff test of the exterior of the vehicle. Gus indicated the presence of narcotics. The sniff test was conducted a second time with the same result. On this evidence, the trial judge issued a search warrant for the Ford van, and the subsequent search led to the seizure of a large amount of crack and cocaine, as well as drug paraphernalia.

On March 3, 2004, the task force intercepted a call in which Davis contacted his supplier, Wiggins, to complain about the quality of one-and-a-half kilos of cocaine he had purchased. Eight seconds after the first telephone call, Wiggins called his supplier, Nelson Lantigua, a/k/a Carlos Lopez, relaying the complaint about the cocaine. During the phone call, Wiggins said that he had two kilos of poor quality cocaine from the last delivery. Lantigua told Wiggins that he would contact his source, but that it would take a while because the source was on vacation.

On March 5, 2004, the task force intercepted a call between Wiggins and Antoine Loper indicating that the "bad" cocaine was being gathered and would be given to Wiggins to exchange for a "good" product.

On March 7, 2004, the task force intercepted calls regarding collection of the "bad" cocaine. Talking in code, Wiggins told defendant to pick up the "bad" cocaine from Davis in a supermarket parking lot in Absecon. Wiggins then told defendant to transfer the "bad" cocaine to Frankie Watson. The task force observed Davis giving the "bad" cocaine to defendant in the parking lot. The task force believed that defendant was Wiggins' closest and most trusted associate. Wiggins ultimately instructed defendant to meet with Lantigua to swap the "bad" cocaine for the "good" product.

On March 8, 2004, Lantigua called Wiggins to let him know that his source had not yet gotten back to him. Lantigua told Wiggins that as soon as he received the "good" cocaine, he would exchange it for the "bad" product. The task force then placed surveillance teams at the homes of Wiggins and Davis and places that Watson frequented, including the home of a female companion in Mays Landing.

Periodic surveillance of the Mays Landing home was conducted on March 9, 2004 by Investigator Keith Carmack. This surveillance included observation of parking space 831, which was assigned to the house. That same day, Carmack observed a white Dodge in space 831, which he recognized as a vehicle previously used by Watson.

An "ending sweep" was planned by the task force on March 10, 2004 to include executions of multiple search and arrest warrants. Vehicle seizure orders were prepared in the ...


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