17 individuals are facing federal charges in relation to a massive drug trafficking operation that brought cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl from across the United States’ southern border into the Western New York area. It’s part of the largest prosecution ever taken on by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of New York.
Thousands of pounds of the drugs were imported into the U.S. from Mexico under the direction of two California-based figureheads. The drugs were transported across the country under the guise of food distributors shipping to companies in Western New York.
“They actually had warehouses in California. While they didn’t have stock in their warehouse, they had warehouse addresses, fronts, business footprints,” said John Flickinger, Resident Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Buffalo.
When transporting the drugs from the west coast, the illicit goods were reported and packaged to appear as shipments of sea cucumbers bound for sale in Buffalo and the surrounding areas.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Tokash described, sea cucumbers were the centerpiece of the operation’s money laundering scheme as well.
“Not only where they purporting to sell this, but they purported to sell over $20-million worth of sea cucumbers,” said Tokash. “The money from the proceeds of these alleged sea cucumber sales – which we know were actually drug proceeds – were then funneled back through banks in Western New York to California.”
Tokash said once the product arrived in Western New York, two men – Troy Gillon and Darryl Williams – were central players to the operation in the Niagara Falls and Lockport area.
“They would receive massive shipments of drugs from California and, in turn, would then distribute them to local retail dealers, namely [Michael] Mitchell and Trent Hamilton,” said Tokash.
Tokash said Hamilton and Mitchell then distributed the drugs down to at least three street-level dealers.
During the course of the investigation that led to the indictments announced on Tuesday, more than 4-million doses of drugs were seized.
The 17 defendants face a combined 30 counts of federal charges including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise; conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine; money laundering conspiracy; possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of crack cocaine, heroin and fentanyl; maintaining a drug-involved premises; felon in possession of firearm and ammunition; possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes; and obstruction of justice. All 17 defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.