BOSTON – A Saugus woman pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Boston to her role in a large-scale drug trafficking organization that manufactured and distributed hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Percocet pills containing fentanyl.
Nicole Benton, 45, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and other controlled substances and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs scheduled sentencing for Jan. 20, 2022. Benton was charged on June 30, 2021 along with co-conspirators Vincent Caruso, Laurie Caruso and Ernest Johnson, who have pleaded not guilty.
According to the charging documents, Benton was a member of a large drug trafficking organization (DTO) operated by Vincent Caruso, a self-admitted Crip gang member, that included Johnson and Vincent Caruso’s mother, Laurie Caruso, among others. The DTO allegedly sold counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl – produced using multiple large pill presses capable of generating thousands of pills per hour – to street gangs for further distribution on the North Shore of Massachusetts. A single counterfeit fentanyl pill allegedly retails between $10-$20, thereby generating millions of dollars in retails sales.
Benton admitted to distributing more than 100,000 pressed fentanyl pills on behalf of the organization. Based upon pills seized during the investigation, 100,000 pills would equate to more than 10 kilograms of fentanyl. During a search of Benton’s residence on June 30, 2021, approximately 40 grams of fentanyl pills and a firearm were seized.
The charge of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl provides for a sentence of up to life in prison, at least four years and up to a lifetime of supervised release and a fine of up to $5 million. The charge of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl provides for a sentence of up to life in prison, at least five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release and a fine of up to $10 million. The charge of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense provides for a mandatory consecutive sentence of five years and up to life in prison, five years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell: Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; James Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Boston Division; and Colonel Christopher Mason, Superintendent of the Massachusetts States Police made the announcement. Assistance was provided by the Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk County District Attorneys’ Offices; Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk County Sheriffs’ Departments; Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Danvers, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Salem, Saugus, Somerville and Revere Police Departments; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine; Maine Drug Enforcement Agency; Bolton (ME), Bangor (ME), Portland (ME) and Westbrook (ME) Police Departments; and Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Philip A. Mallard and Sarah Hoefle of Mendell’s Organized Crime and Gang Unit is prosecuting the case.
The operation was conducted by a multi-agency task force through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply. More information on the OCDETF program is available here: https://www.justice.gov/ocdetf/about-ocdetf.
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.