Written by Jennifer Bradshaw
The arrest of Cranbury resident Gaetano Barone, 40, owner of Cranberry’s Gourmet Cafe, has been linked to the takedown of a local drug distribution ring that has resulted in the arrest of 10 men and the seizure of $130,000 worth of drugs, 22 illegal firearms and thousands of dollars in cash, according to a press release issued by State Police.
Detectives seized cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, prescription legend drugs, steroids, a handgun, and counterfeit clothing from the restaurant on Dec. 27 as a part of "Operation Smoke Screen", a 10-month investigation involving the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, and the New Brunswick Police Department which resulted in 10 arrests, three of which were public employees, according to the release. Barone was jailed at the Middlesex County Jail on $250,000 bail.New Brunswick Housing inspector Michael Mahony, 55, of Milltown, was arrested and charged with drug possession and distribution just before Christmas as part of "Operation Smoke Screen", as well. He was suspended without pay from his job and remains so, according to the city.
Michael Vitanza, 57 of North Brunswick, an employee of the North Brunswick Department of Public Works, and Scott Campion, 40, of North Brunswick, a dispatcher with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department were also arrested in the investigation.
Mahony was arrested on Dec. 20 "near his residence" while driving a city-owned vehicle, according to the release. Reports that he was arrested at the New Brunswick Elks Lodge are not correct, according to State Police spokesman Sgt. Adam Grossman.
He was charged with Distribution of Cocaine, Possession of Cocaine, Posession of Cocaine within 1,000 Feet of a School and Possession of Cocaine Within 500 feet of a public building.
The main focus of the investigation was on Paul Cano, 47, of New Brunswick, John Meerbaugh, 53, of New Brunswick, and Frank Kinelski, 53 of Somerset, alleged dealers who were using "sophisticated means to distribute cocaine and marijuana in central New Jersey for up to two decades," the release said.
Cano, Meerbaugh and Mahony were arrested over the two-day period of Wednesday, Dec. 18 and Thursday, Dec. 19, according to the release. Cano was arrested in New Brunswick near Jersey Avenue and Meerbaugh was arrested at his home. Both men were charged with Possession and Distribution of CDS.
Cano is also accused of the purchase and sale of illegal weapons.
All three men were jailed at the Middlesex County Jail. Mahony was released after posting $150,000 bail, according to the release.
Kinelski was arrested at his home, where police found MDMA, cocaine, marijuana, weapons, and over $2,000 in cash, according to the release. He was jailed on $150,000 bail.
Vitanza was charged with Conspiracy to Distribute CDS and Campion was charged with Loitering to Commit CDS Offense.
Vitanza was jailed on $150,000 bail and Campion was released on his own recognizance, according to the state police.
Also arrested were Richard Murphy, 54, of Somerset, Robert Blume, 21, of North Brunswick and John Allegro, 48, of Monroe. All three men were charged with Possession of CDS.
In total, police seized approximately $130,000 worth of assorted drugs, more than $10,000 in cash and a slew of firearms, including 17 handguns, 14 rifles, two assault rifles, two shotguns, four high-capacity magazines, one stun gun and one ballistic vest, according to the release. Twenty-two of the 36 weapons were found to be illegal.
Police also seized drug distribution items and a 2008 Toyota Tundra pickup truck used by Cano for drug distribution, according to the release.
“I am proud of the contributions my officers were able to bring to this investigation and I am thankful to the New Jersey State Police and the other agencies for their resources throughout this process,” said New Brunswick Police Director Anthony Caputo. “The New Brunswick Police Department will continue to work with our partners in the pursuit of criminal activity which touches our neighborhoods.”
On Tuesday, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill released a statement condemning the arrests and thanking the law enforcement agencies involved.
“Let this serve as a clear and strong message that any illegal conduct by any and all city employees will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Cahill said. "As city employees and officials, we have one responsibility and that is to serve the public. Any deviation from this is unacceptable."
The case will be prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice through the Office of the Attorney General, the release said.