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Press Release

Rhode Island Man Sentenced to Over 33 Years in Federal Prison for Leadership Role in International Drug Trafficking Organization

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A Rhode Island man was sentenced today to 400 months in prison for his role in an international fentanyl distribution conspiracy.

Steven Barros Pinto, 40, of Rhode Island, was sentenced by Chief District Court Judge Peter D. Welte in Fargo, North Dakota today. Pinto was part of a Rhode Island organization that was distributing fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from Canada and China. After a five-week trial that began on June 8 in Fargo, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Pinto on various charges including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, money laundering conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise, and obstruction of justice. One of Pinto’s principal U.S.-based partners in this criminal conspiracy, Anthony Santos Gomes, 36, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on July 30.

This investigation started on Jan. 3, 2015, with the overdose death in Grand Forks, North Dakota, of Bailey Henke, and eventually led to the indictment, and subsequent conviction, of multiple defendants including Daniel Vivas Ceron, 41, of Colombia, who pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice R. Senechal in Fargo in July 2019 to continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in serious bodily injury and death, and money laundering.

In 2021, three Canadian nationals from Quebec, Canada, Jason Joey Berry, 38; Xuan Cahn Nguyen, 41; and Marie Um, 41, were extradited from Canada to the United States. These defendants are detained and are currently awaiting trial scheduled on Oct. 4, 2022 in Fargo. On Aug. 31, 2021, the U.S. Department of State offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of People’s Republic of China national Zhang Jian, aka Hong Kong Zaron, 42, a fugitive in this transnational investigation.

Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas W. Chase of the District of North Dakota, and Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug of the District of Oregon made this announcement.

This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; IRS-Criminal Investigation’s Fargo Field Office; Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force; Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Portland Oregon Police Bureau – Drugs and Vice Division, Portland HIDTA Interdiction Task Force; Oregon State Police; and the Grand Forks Police Department. 

The case is part of “Operation Denial,” an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation into the international trafficking of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues and was significantly aided by the national and international coordination led by the multi-agency Special Operations Division.

Trial Attorneys Kaitlin Sahni and Imani Hutty of the Justice Department’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section; Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers of the District of North Dakota; and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin of the District of Oregon prosecuted this case.

Updated October 14, 2021

Press Release Number: 21-1006