Finally, a man answered the door and the officers burst into the house, their shouts ringing out on Shire Drive: "Police! Police! Police! Police!"
By the time neighbors were padding out to pick up their morning papers in their driveways, police said, Paul Umfer 3d, 22, who resided in the home with his father, had been arrested on charges of conspiring to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana. Police said that there was no resistance when Umfer's father opened the door, that Umfer 3d left his loaded semiautomatic gun under his pillow when confronted by police.
At the same time, similar sweeps were played out at 13 homes in Gloucester and Camden Counties and one home in Philadelphia as 10 other people in the Washington Township-based marijuana distribution network were arrested, police said. Umfer 3d, a material handler at Holt Cargo Inc. in Gloucester City, is believed to be the South Jersey head distributor of the ring, police said.
Several pounds of marijuana, records chronicling drug sales and three guns were confiscated during the raids, authorities said. Police said they hoped the arrests would put a dent in the marijuana ring, which has distribution ties to Philadelphia, they said.
"When you look at the impact he (Umfer) has, it's like a pyramid," said Detective John Gallagher of the Washington Township Police Department. "It can end up with 20 people selling at the bottom, but there's no way of knowing (how many)."
The raids left at least one family member dazed and doubtful that the police had the right house. Paul Umfer Jr., the suspect's father, quietly cleared sunglasses and personal papers from his son's 1992 Pontiac Bonneville so that police could seize the car.
"I have no idea what is going on," Umfer Jr. said as he stood in his driveway. "He's a very decent kid and doesn't do drugs."
Officials said they believe that Umfer 3d bought about five pounds of marijuana a week from a source in Philadelphia and that the drugs may have originated in Mexico. The marijuana is worth up to $3,000 a pound, police said.
Police also believe that the arrests - which constitute one of the largest
drug arrests in Washington Township since 1987 - reflect a recent marked increase in marijuana use in the area.
"There's basically been a 10-year drought," Detective Lt. Francis Burke said. "But we've been seeing a problem develop over the past two years. I don't know why."
Burke said police began an investigation into the marijuana network in January after noticing a rise in arrests involving marijuana. Just two weeks ago, Burke said, police arrested a township resident who they believe sold drugs to high school students, who, in turn, sold the marijuana to middle school students.
The investigation that prompted the raids was led by the township's Special Investigation Unit and the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office Narcotics Strike Force.
Yesterday's arrests were performed by more than 60 officers from Gloucester and Camden Counties. They shared doughnuts and coffee at a 4:30 a.m. briefing in the Washington Township Municipal Court before joining their teams and driving off into the dark.
By noon, police said warrants for the arrests of 14 people netted the arrest of 11 area residents. All were charged with conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana, a charge which police said carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.
The Washington Township residents arrested included Charles Cerino, 23; John Amato, 23; John Micucci, 22; Jennifer Pelikan, 19; Alisia Woyner, 21; Doug Whitson, 21, and Michael Good, 25. Lisa Marie Basye, 25, of Glassboro; Jason Allison, 23, of Gloucester City, and Denise Gondolf, 25, of Clayton, were also arrested.
Pelikan was released on her own recognizance. All the others - except Umfer - were released from the Gloucester County Jail yesterday. Umfer was held on $20,000 cash bail. Police issued warrants for the arrest of three additional men, including one Philadelphia resident, on the same conspiracy charges.