2008-06-11 / Front Page

Property in drug case comes under scrutiny

Manalapan resident alleged to be head of cocaine ring
BY KATHY BARATTA Staff Writer

MANALAPAN - The investigation of an international narcotics distribution ring and money laundering network that authorities claim is based in Manalapan is continuing.

When the arrests were announced last week, seven people were taken into custody, including Manalapan residents Vicente Esteves, 35, and Chantal Esteves, 30.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis A. Valentin said Chantal Esteves is the wife of Vicente Esteves.

According to law enforcement authorities, the joint Monmouth County and federal investigation started 14 months ago. Dubbed "Operation Unbounded," law enforcement personnel alleged that the individuals who were arrested had been generating $1 million per week in proceeds from the importation and sale of cocaine.

Authorities allege the drug operation was based at a home owned by Vicente and Chantal Esteves at 162 Taylors Mills Road, at the corner of Tennent Road.

According to a deed recorded with the Monmouth County Clerk's office in June 2006, an entity named Diamond Builders of New Jersey, LLC, transferred ownership of the property at 162 Taylors Mills Road to Vicente Esteves for $1.

A public records search also uncovered recorded documents that show Diamond Builders owns four other Manalapan properties: 598 Tennent Road, 602 Tennent Road, 606 Tennent Road and 610 Tennent Road.

According to filed documents, all four properties were purchased in 2005 by Diamond Builders for a total price of $999,600.

In documents filed with the deed, Vicente Esteves is listed as the sole owner of Diamond Builders.

Also recorded in June 2006 with the county clerk is a mortgage for the home at 162 Taylors Mills Road in the amount of $825,000 taken out by Vicente Esteves. The document lists him as an unmarried person.

When purchased in 2006 from Diamond Builders, the assessment for the property at 162 Taylors Mills Road was $528,300.

Following a 2007 property revaluation in Manalapan and the completion of the lavish home which Valentin said looked "like something out of 'Scarface,' " the home at 162 Taylors Mills Road was assessed at $1,070,500.

"Scarface" is a film starring Al Pacino playing the role of a drug lord.

Deed papers filed for the next door property at 160 Taylors Mills Road shows Diamond Builders as the owner of that property as well.

Seizure orders for both residences have been posted on the front door of the two homes by law enforcement authorities.

Since the home at 160 Taylors Mills Road has not been completed, there are no assessment figures available.

Valentin said at the June 2 news conference held to announce the arrests of the first seven individuals netted in "Operation Unbounded" that Vicente Esteves had set up a "shell business" to use for "laundering money" earned by the cocaine operation. Valentin would not elaborate on that aspect of the case except to note that the shell company was a "company used to transfer real property."

Monmouth County First Assistant Prosecutor Peter E. Warshaw Jr. said he would not comment when asked by a reporter to elaborate on the real estate information that was obtained by the News Transcript.

He did confirm the arrest of two more individuals in the ongoing investigation. According to Warshaw, two Perth Amboy men, Jose Tapia, 33, andArsenioAlejo, 41, were arrested on June 3 and charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. Tapia and Alejo were each jailed with bail set at $500,000.

Bail for Vicente Esteves was set at $10 million and bail for Chantal Esteves was set at $5 million. They were placed in the Monmouth County jail, Freehold Township. They were each charged with operating a cocaine distribution network and a money-laundering operation that spanned several countries.

According to authorities, Vicente Esteves was the recognized head of the organization and Chantal Esteves ran the organization when her husband was out of the country.

If convicted, they face 10 years in prison for conspiracy and 10 years for money laundering, according to officials.

According to authorities, when the Esteves home was raided by law enforcement officers on May 29, an unspecified amount of cash was seized, along with about $1 million worth of jewelry.

It is alleged that at the peak of the organization's operation, the ring was distributing more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of cocaine per month.

Valentin said the estimated street value of the cocaine seized by law enforcement authorities exceeds $2 million. He said major airports were used to bring the drugs in from countries such as Mexico and Colombia.

Others charged in connection with the drug ring were Alfurquan Barringer, 34, of South River; Mark Edwards, 39, of Metuchen; Hector Rodriguez, 40, of Perth Amboy; Michael Lopez, 35, of Perth Amboy; and Cesar Robert Cabrera- Cepeda, 39, of Old Bridge. They were all charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance.

Vicente Esteves, Chantal Esteves, Edwards, Lopez and Rodriguez were also charged with first-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity, which Valentin explained is commonly referred to as money laundering.

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