Day: March 15, 2023

“Operation Checkmate” Defendant Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy To Possess Cocaine With Intent To Distribute And Financial Facilitation

March 15, 2023

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced that on March 13, 2023, Mark Capichana, 55, of Keyport, pled guilty before the Honorable Lisa A. Puglisi, J.S.C., to Conspiracy to Possess Cocaine in an Amount Greater than Five Ounces with Intent to Distribute, as well as Financial Facilitation of Criminal Activity.  At the time of his sentencing on June 30, 2023, the State will be seeking a term of seven years New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) as to the Narcotics charge and seven years NJSP as to the Financial Facilitation charge.  The sentences are to run consecutively.

“Operation Checkmate” was a four-month-long cooperative, multi-jurisdictional investigation conducted by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Strike Force, United States Drug Enforcement Administration – High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Group 5, Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Strike Force,and New Jersey State Police – Trafficking Central Unit, in concert with many other state, county, and local law enforcement agencies.  The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Strike Force managed and directed three simultaneous multi-agency investigations into high level cocaine distribution in Ocean, Monmouth, and Middlesex Counties, as well as New York City.  During the course of these investigations, approximately 50 additional law enforcement personnel were assigned to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Strike Force on a full-time basis.  Multiple agencies – both within and outside of Ocean County – assisted in every aspect of all three investigations.  The investigations, identified as “Operation Checkmate,” began in July 2021 and concluded in October of 2021.

The three cocaine networks were responsible for the import of more than three kilograms of cocaine per week into the Ocean, Monmouth, and Middlesex County areas.  Through sophisticated surveillance methods and undercover operatives, “Operation Checkmate” was successful in disrupting and dismantling illicit controlled dangerous substance (CDS) distribution activities in these three counties, as well as New York City.  On October 26, 2021, “Operation Checkmate” closed with the apprehension of 24 individuals for various offenses involving distribution of controlled dangerous substances.  Additionally, 24 search warrants were executed resulting in the seizure of more than four kilograms of cocaine, over 15 pounds of marijuana, in excess of $650,000 in United States currency,  seven firearms (three handguns, three “ghost guns,” and one pistol grip shotgun), ten vehicles, and additional illegal narcotics. 

On October 26, 2021, Detectives executed court authorized search warrants at Capichana’s residence in Keyport and a business operated by Capichana, also located in Keyport.  As a result, law enforcement seized – in combination from the residence and the business – approximately 1,455 grams of cocaine as well as $166,000 in United States currency.  Capichana was transported to the Ocean County Jail, and later released as a consequence of New Jersey Bail Reform. 

Prosecutor Billhimer acknowledges the diligent efforts of Chief Narcotics Assistant Prosecutor William Porter and Assistant Prosecutor Stephen Burke who are handling the case on behalf of the State, and also recognizes the following agencies for their collaborative assistance and cooperation with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Strike Force in connection with this investigation:  Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Asset Forfeiture Unit; Ocean County Regional SWAT Team; United States Drug Enforcement Administration – HIDTA Group 5; Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Strike Force; New Jersey State Police – Trafficking Central Unit; New Jersey State Police Teams Unit; New Jersey Air National Guard Counter Drug Task Force; Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Unit; Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force; Matawan Borough Police Department; Matawan Borough Police Department K-9 Unit; Keyport Borough Police Department; Manalapan Township Police Department; Ocean County Sheriff’s Office; Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Field Services Unit; Ocean County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit; Barnegat Township Police Department; Brick Township Police Department Street Crimes Unit; Brick Township Police Department Special Response Team; Brick Township Police Department K-9 Unit; Beachwood Borough Police Department; Berkeley Township Police Department; Jackson Township Police Department; Lakewood  Township Police Department Drug Enforcement Unit; Lakewood Township Police Department Special Response Team; Lakewood Township Police Department K-9 Unit; Manchester Township Police Department Special Enforcement Team; Ocean Township Police Department (Waretown); Point Pleasant Borough Police Department; South Toms River Police Department; Stafford Township Police Department; Toms River Township Police Department Special Enforcement Unit; Toms River Township Police Department Emergency Services Unit; Toms River Township Police K-9 Unit; Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office; Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit; Aberdeen Township Police Department; Asbury Park Police Department; Hazlet Township Police Department; Hazlet Township Police Department K-9 Unit; Keansburg Borough Police Department; Marlboro Township Police Department; Middletown Township Police Department; Sea Bright Borough Police Department; Old Bridge Township Police Department – Bureau of Narcotics; Union Beach Borough Police Department; Union Beach Borough Police Department K-9 Unit; New York City Police Department – 50th  Precinct Field Intelligence Office; and the City of New York Office of Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

NJDEP Statement On East Coast Whale Mortalities

March 15, 2023

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–In consultation with NOAA Fisheries, the lead federal agency responsible for evaluating potential impacts to marine life and habitats from human activities in federal waters, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been monitoring an unusual humpback whale mortality event that has been affecting Atlantic coast states since January 2016. In January of this year, the DEP began receiving concerns from stakeholders that the development of offshore wind energy infrastructure off New Jersey’s coast is causing whale mortality. All offshore wind survey activities have been permitted by NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and deemed safe for marine mammals, i.e., no injurious activities have been permitted for offshore wind developers.

As of March 2023, no offshore wind-related construction activities have taken place in waters off the New Jersey coast, and DEP is aware of no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality. While DEP has no reason to conclude that whale mortality is attributable to offshore wind-related activities, DEP will continue to monitor. 

However, DEP remains concerned that ocean temperatures, which are projected to increase due to human-caused climate change caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, will continue to adversely impact marine mammals, including whales, their food sources, habitats, and migration patterns, as summarized in the New Jersey Scientific Report on Climate Change (Chapter 5.9). Due to these changes in ocean temperature and water chemistry, populations of marine species – including menhaden, a key whale food source—adapt by moving into new areas where conditions are more favorable. Changes that draw prey fish landward similarly increase the risk that these fish and their predators, including whales, may be drawn into conflict with human activities, such as vessel strikes that may increase whale mortality. 

DEP is dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of all natural resources, including aquatic habitats and the fish and wildlife that rely upon the sound management of marine environments. In fulfilling this mission, DEP administers New Jersey’s Coastal Zone Management Program, regulates certain activities in state waters, including the development of energy-generating facilities and infrastructure, and otherwise coordinates environmental reviews with federal government agencies. DEP expects that all regulated entities, including offshore wind project sponsors, pursue development objectives responsibly, including assessing potential environmental impacts and avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating likely adverse effects upon natural resources, including marine mammals and their habitats.

In addition, the Offshore Wind Research & Monitoring Initiative (RMI), a collaborative effort of the DEP and BPU, has authorized $8.5 million in funding to date for scientific efforts to ensure the safe and ecologically responsible development of offshore wind energy.  As part of the BPU’s second wind energy solicitation, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC, and Ocean Wind II, LLC committed $10,000 per megawatt of project-nameplate capacity awarded – a total of about $26 million – to fund regional research and ecological monitoring of the environmental impacts of offshore wind. The projects are being implemented by a variety of academic and research entities and include work to evaluate and minimize impacts to a variety of marine wildlife, including whales.

For more details on RMI, visit Click on the “Projects” tab for more information on the various research projects.

For information from NOAA on humpback whale mortalities, visit 2016–2023 Humpback Whale Unusual Mortality Event Along the Atlantic Coast | NOAA Fisheries

For a DEP microsite on whale mortalities, visit

Photos by: Ryan Mack, Jersey Shore Fire Responce

Record Amount of Blood Donated at Robbinsville High School Blood Drive

Students in the Red Cross Club Organize the Community Event

March 15, 2023

ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)–Robbinsville High School’s Red Cross Club collected 51 units of donated blood from community members in February, one of the largest totals in recent years.

“This is the biggest number I’ve seen since becoming the club’s adviser,” said teacher Sue Kanagawa, who began advising the club in 2017. “It’s amazing to see such community support for this important project.”

To put this year’s number in perspective, the club collected 47 units of blood in 2022, 25 units of blood in 2020, and 23 units of blood in 2019. A blood drive was not held in 2021 because of COVID-19.

Each unit of blood can be used by up to three patients, meaning this year’s donations could help as many as 153 individuals, according to the American Red Cross New Jersey Region.

Robbinsville’s Red Cross Club is one of the largest student organizations at the high school with about 90 members. They worked to plan, promote and manage a recent blood drive, while technicians from the American Red Cross set up stations and administered the blood donations. Students also served snacks to donors, including bagels donated by Bagels n’ Cream on Washington Boulevard.

For Sahana Prasad, a Robbinsville junior, volunteering for the club teaches her about the crucial role that blood drives play in keeping a stable supply.

“There’s really no substitute for blood and everyone has to do their part in helping others around the world,” said Prasad, the club’s secretary.

Someone in the United States requires additional blood or platelets every two seconds, which translates to a daily demand of 29,000 units of red blood cells, nearly 5,000 units of platelets and 6,500 units of plasma, according to the American Red Cross.

That urgency is what drove Suhani Agarwal to volunteer for the club, as well. The Robbinsville junior greeted donors at the door and helped ensure they had required documentation, among other duties.

Agarwal, Red Cross Club’s vice president, said serving others is a value that has long been instilled in her at home. Indeed, her mom was among those who donated blood.

“It makes me feel really nice to give back to my community,” Agarwal said. “It was great to have someone in my family donate. It was also nice to see how many people in our community who want to help.”

American Red Cross New Jersey Region CEO Rosie Taravella thanked students, staff and the Robbinsville community for their blood donations, noting the vast disparity between how many people need blood and the number of people who donate.

Robbinsville’s donations, Taravella said, will help bridge that gap.

“The need for blood is constant, and the students and staff at Robbinsville High School can be counted on to roll up a sleeve to help meet the need,” Taravella said. “One in seven patients entering a hospital will need a blood transfusion, but at the same time, only about three percent of Americans give blood. The American Red Cross is proud of the work the Robbinsville Red Cross Club puts into organizing blood drives and grateful for the humanitarian spirit exhibited at the school.”

Red Cross Club members promoted the blood drive with posters, social media and good old-fashioned word of mouth, especially in conversations between students and their parents, according to Shrika Yeddula, the club’s co-president.

“It’s a club that really opens up high schoolers to the world of volunteering; it is important to get involved in something that has greater purpose and could help other people,” said Yeddula, a senior who has been in the club for three years.

In addition to the blood drive, Red Cross Club collects food for military families, sends holiday cards to military personnel and hosts bake sales each year in support of the American Red Cross. The club also has raised money to fight wildfires and educate children about COVID-19 hygiene.

Abinaya Dharanikumar, the club’s treasurer, said she especially enjoys writing holiday cards to members of the armed forces. The club typically sends between 200 and 300 cards each year with messages that express gratitude to the recipients for their service.

“Everyone loves doing these cards,” said Dharanikumar, a senior who has been in the club since her freshman year. “For me personally I like making the cards because it is a way to show how much we appreciate them. Everyone feels the same way.”

How to Donate Blood

Download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

Red Cross Club members.

Red Cross Club executive members.

Visitors prepare to donate blood after student volunteers checked their IDs

Red Cross Club student volunteers at the blood drive.

Red Cross Club student volunteers at the blood drive.