It's a distribution model used successfully in business: Bring large quantities of consumer goods into America and store them in North Jersey warehouses. Then break up the shipment -- jeans, DVD players, cocaine -- for sale across the region.
More and more narcotics networks are using it -- as drug agents again found last weekend, when they seized more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine hidden in a tractor-trailer parked outside a Hackensack warehouse.
Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties have become convenient spots to stash large quantities of drugs destined for street sale from Brooklyn to Boston, authorities said Wednesday.
"We are the crossroads for drugs in the Northeast," said Gerard McAleer, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Newark.
Tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana are flowing into North Jersey every year, authorities say. But, unlike yesteryear, they aren't merely passing through into Manhattan. Instead, wholesalers are finding places here to break up their loads.
Large loads of cocaine are being found in everything from houses to hotels in North Jersey, fed by some of the most traveled roadways in the nation and more scrutiny on truck crossings at the bridges and tunnels.
"Just look at the geography," said Lt. Colonel Frank Rodgers, deputy superintendent in charge of investigations for the state police.
"You have one of the busiest container ports in the world sitting right next to the busiest limited access highway in world, which is right next to the third-biggest international airport in the world -- sitting between Philadelphia and New York, two of the biggest markets in the world," Rodgers said.
Loads continue to turn up in tractor-trailers, which remain the preferred method of cross-country shipment. Six people were arrested last weekend after investigators found 1,045 pounds of cocaine in the 18-wheeler while it was parked next to a South River Street warehouse.
"It's a choke point, a bottleneck," McAleer said of North Jersey. "It's very similar to point of entries along the Mexican border, where there are stash houses in Mexico where they keep it till they have the opportunity to scoot it across the border."
In North Jersey, the "scooting" is usually done via carload. Dealers, often street gang members, drive to where the drugs are being kept, fill up their trunks and then go back from whence they came.
"Cars come over and pick up 100 kilos and that's how it works," McAleer said.
In response, the DEA has launched Operation Jersey Barrier, a drug interdiction plan that shifts enforcement emphasis to high-level targets -- the wholesalers bringing the drugs into the state.
Part of the DEA plan is to take relatively small busts of one or two kilos and use them to build conspiracy cases against major traffickers. It's a shift, McAleer said, that is being implemented across federal agencies. They're also tracing the billions of dollars -- $10 billion alone in 2005 -- that is being shipped back to South America using the same distribution channels, he said.
"Our seizures are way up," Rodgers of the state police said. "It's a target-rich environment, unfortunately."
Rodgers said his agency's "strategy of disruption" just this year has led to seizures of $17 million in cash and "tons" of narcotics.
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North Jersey cocaine seizures
Last weekend: Agents find 1,045 pounds of cocaine in a tractor-trailer in Hackensack.
Sept. 2006: Authorities seize 211 pounds of cocaine from a Paterson apartment.
Aug. 2006: Officers find 75 pounds of cocaine in the cab of a truck on Route 80 in Totowa.
July 2006: Police seize 53 pounds of cocaine from a car during a Paterson traffic stop.
May 2006: Detectives seize 180 pounds of cocaine from the attic of a West Paterson house.
Jan. 2006: Workers find 297 pounds of cocaine in a tractor-trailer at Paterson's Farmers Market.
Nov. 2005: Police seize 20 pounds of cocaine from an SUV in a Fort Lee parking lot.
Oct. 2005: Authorities seize 720 pounds of cocaine during a traffic stop in Hackensack; Police seize 100 pounds of cocaine from a car at a Ridgefield Park motel.
Sept. 2005: Police find 75 pounds of cocaine in a hidden compartment in an SUV in Fort Lee.
July 2005: Authorities seize 275 pounds of cocaine from a tractor-trailer in Ridgefield.
June 2005: Investigators raid a Palisades Park stash house, recovering 900 pounds of cocaine.
Feb. 2005: Police seize 227 pounds of cocaine during a Paterson traffic stop.
Aug. 2004: Agents charge six men and seize three jets allegedly used to smuggle more than 1,600 pounds of cocaine through Teterboro Airport.
April 2004: Investigators seize 220 pounds of cocaine from a rapper's tour bus in Fort Lee.