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2014 New Jersey State Police News Releases NJSP Badge


Office of Public Information (609) 882-2000
Lt. Stephen Jones - ext. 6513
SFC Brian Polite - ext. 6514
Sgt. Adam Grossman - ext. 6516

January 7, 2014

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Troopers & Partners Dismantle Drug Network in
“Operation Smoke Screen”

New Brunswick, N.J. – A cooperative investigation by the New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, New Brunswick Police Department, and other agencies has led to the arrest of 10 people in connection with a large drug distribution network.  One of those arrested, Michael Mahony, 55, of Milltown, is the Chief Housing Inspector of the New Brunswick Housing Authority.  Two others arrested are Michael Vitanza, 57 of North Brunswick, who is employed by the North Brunswick Department of Public Works, and Scott Campion, 40, of North Brunswick who is a dispatcher with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department.
The 10-month investigation focused on the alleged drug distribution activities of Paul Cano, 47, of New Brunswick, John Meerbaugh, 53, of North Brunswick, and Frank Kinelski, 53 of Somerset.  They are believed to have utilized sophisticated means to distribute cocaine and marijuana in central New Jersey for up to two decades.  Cano is also believed to have bought and sold illegal weapons while engaging in the drug distribution activities. 

“These alleged drug dealers posed a serious threat to the communities where they operated, as evidenced by the numerous illegal guns and drugs that we seized,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.  “Through long-term investigations of this type, we are putting drug and gun traffickers where they belong – behind bars for a long time – and we are making the people of New Jersey safer.”

“Crimes involving drug distribution and illegal firearms are always a priority, but this case is more significant for two reasons: public employees were involved and the illegal activity may have been going on for many years,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.

“We are working across all levels of law enforcement to target the narcotics and weapons trafficking that are fueling violence in our communities,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “With this operation, we took down a criminal syndicate that allegedly had been bringing illicit drugs and weapons into Middlesex and Somerset counties for many  years.”

“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 Wednesday, December 18 and Thursday, December 19, detectives executed numerous arrest and search warrants.  Paul Cano was arrested in New Brunswick near Jersey Avenue and John Meerbaugh was arrested at his home in North Brunswick.  Both were charged with Possession and Distribution of CDS. Cano was also charged with weapons offenses. They were lodged in the Middlesex County Jail in lieu of bail.

Michael Mahony was arrested and taken into custody near his residence while driving a city- owned vehicle.  He was found with a distribution quantity of cocaine during the arrest.  Mahony was charged with Possession of CDS and Distribution of CDS. He was lodged in the Middlesex County Jail and has since been released on bail. 

Michael Vitanza is alleged to have obtained drugs while working.  He was arrested at his place employment and charged with CDS offenses including Conspiracy to Distribute.  Scott Campion was charged with CDS offenses. Michael Vitanza has been lodged in the Middlesex County Jail in default of bail. 

Kinelski was arrested at his residence and found with MDMA, cocaine, marijuana, weapons, and more than $2000 cash.  He was lodged in the Middlesex County Jail in default of bail.

The last arrest was made on Friday, December 27 when Gaetano Barone, 40 of Cranbury, who is the owner of Cranberry’s Gourmet Cafe was taken into custody.  Detectives seized cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, prescription legend drugs (PLD’s), steroids, a handgun, and counterfeit clothing from that location.  He was lodged in the Middlesex County Jail in default of bail.

The majority of the drugs and weapons were found at the Cranberry’s Gourmet Cafe and at the homes of Cano, Meerbaugh and Kinelski.  In total, detectives recovered more than 1.5 kilos of cocaine, two pounds of marijuana, 12 ounces of MDMA, 167 prescription legend drugs (PLD’S), and steroids.  The seized drugs are valued at approximately $130,000. 

Also seized were 17 handguns, 14 rifles, two assault rifles, two shotguns, four high capacity magazines, one stun gun, one ballistic vest, and more than $10,000 cash.  Twenty-two of the 36 weapons were found to be illegal.  Additionally, many items related to drug distribution were seized including, scales, grinders, packaging equipment, and cutting agents.  A 2008 Toyota Tundra pickup truck used by Cano for drug distribution was also seized. 

The case will be prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice under the Office of the Attorney General.

Below is a list of those arrested during the operation.  Each was lodged in the Middlesex County Jail:

      Bail Charges
Paul Cano
Paul Cano
47 New Brunswick $250k Distribution of Cocaine
Possession of Cocaine
Distribution of Marijuana
Possession of Marijuana
Maintaining a fortified structure
Illegal Transfer of a firearm
Unlawful Possession of Firearms
Unlawful Possession of Assault Rifles
Unlawful Possession of Handguns
Possession of Firearms during CDS Offense
John Meerbaugh
John Meerbaugh
53 New Brunswick $250k Distribution of Cocaine
Possession of Cocaine
Distribution of Marijuana
Possession of Marijuana
Distribution of CDS/1,000 feet of school
Gaetano Barone
Gaetano Barone
40 Cranbury $250k Distribution of Cocaine
Possession of Cocaine w/intent to dist.
Possession of Marijuana w/intent to dist.
Possession w/intent to dist. MDMA
Possession of PLD’S w/intent to Dist.
Possession of Handgun during CDS offense
Possession of Steroids
Certain Person not to Possess Firearms
Possession of Counterfeit Clothing
Frank Kinelski
Frank Kinelski
53 Somerset $150k Distribution of Cocaine
Possession of Cocaine
Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine
Possession w/intent to Distribute MDMA
Possession w/intent to Distribute Marijuana
Possession of Firearm during CDS Offense
Unlawful Possession of Firearms
Michael Mahony
Michael Mahony
55 Milltown $150k Distribution of Cocaine
Possession of Cocaine
Poss. of Cocaine w/1,000 ft. of school
Poss. of Cocaine w/500 ft. of Public Bldg.
Michael Vitanza
Michael Vitanza
57 North Brunswick $150k Conspiracy to Distribute CDS
Scott Campion
Scott Campion
40 North Brunswick ROR Loitering to Commit CDS Offense
Richard Murphy
Richard Murphy
54 Somerset ROR Possession of CDS
Robert Blume
Robert Blume
21 North Brunswick ROR Possession of CDS
John Allegro
John Allegro
48 Monroe ROR Possession of CDS

The agencies participating in this operation are:

  • New Jersey State Police
  • New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice
  • New Brunswick Police Department
  • Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Plainfield Police Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation


Charges are mere accusations. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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