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Press Release

Leader of Baton Rouge-based “FreeBandz” Drug Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, LA – United States Attorney Brandon J. Fremin announced that SHANARD ZELRON BANKS, a.k.a. “Nardie,” age 30, pled guilty before Judge Brian A. Jackson to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, one count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, one count of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, thirteen counts of unlawful use of a communication facility, and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.  As a result of his guilty plea, BANKS faces a maximum term of imprisonment of life, significant fines, and forfeiture of the property involved or used in, or derived from, his illegal activity.

BANKS was charged along with twenty other individuals in connection with an extensive federal, state, and local investigation by the Middle District Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) aimed at a drug trafficking organization – FreeBandz – based and operating in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

During the guilty plea hearing, BANKS admitted that he controlled the organization’s illegal pill-pressing operation whereby BANKS and his co-conspirators used pill press machines, punches, dies, and pill pressing chemicals to illegally manufacture tens of thousands of counterfeit controlled substance pills.  The counterfeit pills were tainted with undisclosed amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl analogues, clonazolam, and other controlled substances that BANKS’ co-conspirator obtained from sources located in Houston, Texas, and Los Angeles, California.  These pills were then imprinted with various imprints, including several for controlled substance pharmaceuticals.  Thereafter, BANKS and his co-conspirators distributed the counterfeit pills to others for further distribution in Baton Rouge, Mississippi, the New Orleans metropolitan area, and elsewhere.  The drug trafficking operation formed in or before 2016 and continued until it was disrupted by law enforcement intervention in 2018.

During their investigation, law enforcement agents recovered a .380 caliber Taurus revolver, a .556 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifle, and five semi-automatic pistols of varying calibers from a number of residences and commercial premises that were used to store drugs and drug proceeds, and to conduct drug transactions.  These firearms were possessed by BANKS and a co-conspirator with the purpose of advancing BANKS’ drug trafficking operation.  As a part of his plea agreement,  BANKS agreed to forfeit to the United States the firearms, $20,000, and a 2011 Porshe Panamera that he purchased using drug trafficking proceeds. 

U.S. Attorney Fremin stated, “This conviction holds accountable one of the key leaders of a drug trafficking organization responsible for trafficking large amounts of counterfeit pills laced with heroin and other illegal drugs throughout our district.  Our community deserves peace, security, and freedom from the tyranny of armed drug traffickers.  This conviction has significantly advanced that effort. The combined federal, state, and local efforts that culminated in this conviction once again reflect our unified front against crime in this district. I appreciate the tremendous dedication and hard work by the agents and prosecutors who worked tirelessly on this important matter.”  

Michael Sader, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baton Rouge District Office stated, “This guilty plea is the result of a two year DEA Baton Rouge Task Force investigation of a violent drug trafficking organization responsible for supplying large amounts of narcotics throughout Baton Rouge.  The investigation was successful due to the combined efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.  The DEA will continue to conduct these investigations in an effort to stem the flow of illegal narcotics onto the streets of our community.”

This investigation is another effort by the OCDETF Program, which was established in 1982 to mount a comprehensive attack against organized drug traffickers.  Today, the OCDETF Program is the centerpiece of the United States Attorney General’s drug strategy to reduce the availability of drugs by disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, money laundering organizations, and related criminal enterprises.  The OCDETF Program operates nationwide and combines the resources and unique expertise of numerous federal, state, and local agencies in a coordinated attack against major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.

This OCDETF operation is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana; the Baton Rouge District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Baton Rouge Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jennifer Kleinpeter, who also serves as a deputy criminal chief, and Demetrius D. Sumner.


Updated July 19, 2019