EXCLUSIVE: Jurors today acquitted the driver in a scheme to rob an undercover narcotics officer in Ridgefield Park of 11 of 13 counts. He could still go to prison for several years, however, after they convicted him of possession of imitation heroin with the intent to distribute it and eluding police.
By turning down a plea offer that carried a 15-year sentence, Yohan Balcacer of East Elmhurst, N.Y., reduced his potential prison term by at least five years — and probably more.
Today’s convictions combined expose Balcacer to a term of from five to 10 years. He’ll be credited, however, for the two years he’s spent behind bars since his arrest.
I’m disappointed they didn’t come back with all the counts,” Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor James Santulli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT afterward, “but I’m gratified that they found him guilty of eluding and creating a risk to a police officer and distribution of an imitation controlled dangerous substance.”
Defense attorney Genesis Peduto said: “Under the circumstances, we did well. He was facing significant time had he been convicted of all charges, and he reduced his penalty significantly.”
Authorities said Balcacer was in a separate car, backing up two associates who met with the undercover narcotics officer in the parking lot of a Ridgefield Park hotel in October 2011 for what was supposed to be a $100,000 heroin deal.
There never was any heroin, however: Instead, they bought ordinary flour and wrapped it to look like drugs.
The accused leader of the ring — Jose Rodriguez of Union City — was talking with the undercover officer when accomplice Ronald Green of Queens got out of the lead car and put a gun to the would-be victim’s head, Santulli said.
Backup units quickly moved in and arrested Rodriguez, Green, and a fourth co-defendant, Brandon Seegar of Manhattan, who was sitting in the back seat of Green’s car.
Suddenly, Balcacer hit the gas of his Toyota Camry, which barreled toward the officers and suspects, then hit several cars as he fled onto heavily trafficked Route 46 East, they said.
Ridgefield Park and Leonia police chased Balcacer across the Hudson River into New York City, where he vanished, authorities said. They arrested him the next morning in Queens.
Balcacer’s car came so close to one of the detectives that the officer tried using the butt of his gun to break the windshield, Santulli ( top, right ) told jurors.
“The car was right in front of him, two or three feet away, and he could see the driver, and took a mental picture,” Santulli said. “That turned out to be Yohan Balcacer.”
Rodriguez ( top, middle ) cut a deal with prosecutors, then testified that Balcacer “threatened to kill me” if he didn’t cover for him ( SEE: Ringleader in botched $100,000 undercover drug deal in Ridgefield Park points finger at driver ).
Green, meanwhile, was convicted on 14 of 16 counts and is awaiting sentencing. Seegar skipped bail and remains a fugitive.
Balcacer insisted that he didn’t directly participate in the robbery, although Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi said he could have been convicted of charges involving accomplice liability and conspiracy.
Perduto called Balcacer “a hard-working married man with five children.”
“He has lived in this country most of his life,” she told jurors during the trial. “He has no need to rob to provide a living.”
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.