By David Jones
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Federal authorities charged 21 people with running a New Jersey heroin trafficking ring after investigators intercepted phone conversations that used coded language and were made on disposable cellphones.
Most of those charged in the drug bust on the Jersey Shore were arrested on Thursday, said U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, who added that the operation was conducted by the FBI and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
"This case highlights what has become all too clear: heroin is a serious problem that affects communities across New Jersey," Fishman said in a statement.
The ringleaders, based in Asbury Park, New Jersey, were identified as Rufus "E-Money" Young, 41, and Robert "True" Britt, 44. Each was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine.
The ring moved narcotics through stash houses in Monmouth and Ocean Counties on the New Jersey coast, laundering the proceeds through various third-party, or "straw," bank accounts in California, Fishman said.
The arrests were the result of an investigation that used confidential informants and intercepted phone calls in which the defendants used temporary prepaid phones, spoke in code to avoid detection and quickly disposed of the devices.
During one raid on March 20, police seized more than one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of heroin, a half kilo of cocaine, 30 grams of crack cocaine, three firearms and various drug paraphernalia, including grinders, empty baggies and scales.
Prosecutors had no immediate information about whether the defendants were represented by legal counsel.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and G Crosse)