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Press Release

Lowell Woman Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Smuggle Drugs into Virginia Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
Defendant also laundered drug money through mortgage payments

BOSTON – A Lowell woman pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracies to distribute controlled substances and to launder drug proceeds in Massachusetts and Virginia.

Sathtra Em, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute MDMA and buprenorphine, and two counts of money laundering conspiracy.  U.S. District Court Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for July 11, 2024. 

Between at least December 2019 and May 2021, Em allegedly helped codefendant Michael Mao smuggle MDMA and buprenorphine, in the form of Suboxone and generic Suboxone sublingual films, into the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn in Virginia where Mao was inarecrated. Em allegedly paid a prison guard at the facility, codefendant Kenneth Owen, $1,600 to receive the drugs in the mail and to deliver them to Mao in the prison. Em allegedly mailed at least two packages to Owen in December 2019 and January 2020 for him to smuggle into the prison for Mao. Em also allegedly mailed magazines into the prison with Suboxone sublingual films hidden in between pages glued together. Mao allegedly sold the smuggled drugs to other inmates at Buckingham Correctional Center, and Em collected the drug debts on behalf of Mao using Google Voice phone numbers to contact the inmates’ friends and families, and electronic payment applications such as Cash App and Paypal to receive the funds transfers.    

In a separate conspiracy, Em purchased a home in the Centralville neighborhood of Lowell in 2015. She lived there together with codefendant Sarath Yut until 2017. Yut was a regional drug trafficker and a leader of the Lowell-based gang, One Family Clique. Em and Yut agreed to deposit cash proceeds of Yut’s illegal drug trafficking activity into Em’s bank accounts to pay the mortgage for the Centralville home. Yut gave Em $1,500 cash every month to deposit into her bank account for the mortgage. Between October 2016 and January 2021, Em used at least $76,775 of drug proceeds to pay the mortgage for the Centralville home. 

The charge of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute MDMA and Buprenorphine provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, at least three years and up to life of supervised release and a fine of up to $1 million. The charge of money laundering conspiracy provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $500,000, or twice the amount of the property involved, whichever is greater. Both charges also include forfeiture of assets traceable to or involved in the distribution and laundering offenses. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

Sarath Yut pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering offenses and was sentenced in October 2023 to 15 years in prison.  

Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy and Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division made the announcement. Special assistance was provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations and the Virginia Department of Corrections. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred M. Wyshak, III of the Organized Crime and Gang Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Amhrein of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, are prosecuting the case.

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated April 8, 2024

Drug Trafficking