NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—After weeks of suspense, the State Police finally announced some details of "Operation Smoke Screen," an investigation they say brought down a drug distribution network based in New Brunswick.

Police say that their ten-month investigation yielded ten arrests in total, and helped them seize 36 weapons, 1.5 kilos of cocaine, 12 ounces of MDMA, two pounds of marijuana, and several other illegal drugs.  Twenty-two of the 36 weapons were illegal guns.

As we reported last month, one of the first to be arrested was a longtime employee of the City of New Brunswick, Chief Housing Inspector Michael Mahony.

Mahony has since been suspended without pay by New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill, and today it was revealed that he was caught with a "distribution quantity" of cocaine in his city-owned vehicle near his home.

State Police said the final arrest came December 27, when they nabbed Gaetano Barone, the 40-year-old owner of Cranberry's Gourmet Cafe in Cranbury, NJ. Allegedly, detectives seized cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, prescription legend drugs (PLD’s), steroids, a handgun, and counterfeit clothing from the cafe.

Barone was released on $250,000 bail three days later, and faces serious charges.

As we reported in December, a New Brunswick landlord named Paul Cano III was arrested and charged with a slew of drug and weapons offenses.  The official charges against Cano are currently:

  • possession and distribution of cocaine and marijuana
  • maintaining a fortified structure
  • illegal transfer of a firearm
  • unlawful possession of firearms, handguns, and assault rifles
  • possession of firearms during a CDS (controlled dangerous substance) offense

State Police seized "many items related to drug distribution… including, scales, grinders, packaging equipment, and cutting agents. A 2008 Toyota Tundra pickup truck used by Cano for drug distribution was also seized."

Cano remains in the Middlesex County Workhouse in North Brunswick, along with a longtime accomplice, John Meerbaugh, according to the Records Department at the jail.

Meerbaugh, 53, is charged with distribution and possession of cocaine and marijuana, as well as distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) within a school zone.

Another alleged accomplice, 53-year-old Frank Kinelski of Somerset was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of firearms, possession of firearms during a CDS offense, as well as possession, distribution, and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute both MDMA and marijuana.

Kinelski was released the same day he was arrested after posting $150,000 bail.

Among those arrested on smaller offenses are Scott Campion, 40, a dispatcher for the Middlesex County Sheriff's Office who lives in North Brunswick.  Campion is charged with loitering to commit CDS (controlled dangerous substance) offense and conspiracy to commit CDS offense, according to a press release.  Campion was released without bail.

A call to Middlesex County Sheriff Millie Scott asking about Campion's job status was not immediately returned.

A third public employee, Michael Vitanza, of the North Brunswick Department of Public Works was arrested on charges of conspiracy to distribute CDS and released on $150,000 bail.  The State Police press release said he is "alleged to have obtained drugs while working."

Vitanza was arrested at his place of employment, according to the release.

“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.

Editor at New Brunswick Today | 732-993-9697 |

Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.