“OPERATION CHECKMATE” DEFENDANT PLEADS GUILTY TO POSSESSION OF COCAINE WITH INTENT TO DISTRIBUTE
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced that on January 26, 2023, Mark Kelber, 45, of Manalapan, pled guilty before the Honorable Lisa A. Puglisi, J.S.C., to Possession of Cocaine in an Amount Greater than Five Ounces with Intent to Distribute. At the time of his sentencing on March 24, 2023, the State will be seeking a term of ten years New Jersey State Prison.
“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 the 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 a court-authorized search warrant at Kelber’s residence in Manalapan. As a result, Detectives seized approximately 265 grams of cocaine and $24,325 in United States Currency. Kelber 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.