Ten people indicted for their roles in a conspiracy in which the leader allegedly controlled large shipments of fentanyl stamped into pills, heroin, cocaine and other drugs from Mexico to Cleveland while using a cellular phone smuggled into prison
Ten people were indicted for their roles in a conspiracy in which the leader allegedly controlled large shipments of fentanyl stamped into pills, heroin, cocaine and other drugs from Mexico to Cleveland while using a cellular phone smuggled into his prison cell.
Named in the 17-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland are: Jose Lozano-Leon, 41, a Mexican citizen who was living in Painesville; Mario Hernandez-Leon, 31, of Mexico; Clemente Gutierrez-Meraz, 27, of Mexico; Lorne Franklin, 45, of Cleveland; Leevern Coleman, 49, of Bedford; Belen Orozco-Sigala, 36, of Painesville; Najee Amir Evans, 28, of Cleveland; Troy Pinnock, 47, of Cleveland; Damon Bybee, 60, of Garfield Heights, and Montez Vanburen, 38, of Cleveland.
All ten are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
“The lead defendant is accused of running an international drug trafficking organization from a jail cell in Ohio,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “He has come to this country illegally and allegedly made his living selling the same kinds of drugs that are killing our friends and neighbors. He is an importer of pain and will be prosecuted accordingly.”
“Arrests like these are saving lives," said DEA Detroit Field Division Special Agent in Charge Keith Martin. "In Ohio and other parts of the country, we are seeing an increase in these blue pills that at first glance appear to be legitimately produced oxycodone, but in fact are laced with fentanyl. By working collaboratively with our law enforcement partners, we are getting members of this drug trafficking organization off the streets where they can no longer push these lethal drugs into our communities.”
“Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine -- a speck the size of a grain of sand may be fatal,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Our communities are exponentially safer thanks to the work of this task force.”
According to the indictment and related court documents:
Lozano-Leon (“Lozano”) is alleged to be the leader of the Lozano drug trafficking organization. Lozano is indicted in October 2018 for illegal reentry. He was found to be in the United States on October 17, 2018, after having been deported in 2017. Lozano pleaded guilty to that charge earlier this year and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. He was incarcerated at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NEOCC) in Youngstown.
Beginning at least in November 2018, Lozano allegedly used a smuggled, contraband cellular telephone to communicate with other defendants and manage the Lozano drug trafficking organization from his prison cell at NEOCC.
Lozano spoke frequently with the co-defendants and others to arrange shipments of drugs from Mexico and other locations to Cleveland, for distribution in Northeast Ohio. The group allegedly specialized in pills containing fentanyl and/or fentanyl analogues but which appeared to be prescription oxycodone, according to the indictment.
The group also allegedly trafficked heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, according to the indictment.
Hernandez-Leon (“Hernandez”) allegedly obtained drugs for the organization in Mexico and arranged for them to be smuggled into the United States and sent to co-conspirators in Northeast Ohio. He often traveled between Tijuana and San Diego to receive drug proceeds and deliver payments to suppliers in Mexico, according to the indictment.
Gutierrez-Meran (“Gutierriez”) operated from Mexico and arranged for shipments of drugs and transfers of money, according to the indictment.
Franklin received shipments of drugs in Cleveland arranged by Lozano, which he then sold the drugs in the Cleveland area. He also arranged for cash drug proceeds to be sent to Arizona, California and Mexico, according to the indictment.
Coleman, while incarcerated at a federal prison in Michigan, helped Lozano communicate with and direct actions of the co-conspirators, including Franklin, according to the indictment.
For example, shortly after midnight on April 11, 2019, Lozano and Gutierrez texted about a shipment of pills Gutierrez sent to a location in Cleveland. Minutes later, Lozano texted Franklin: “TOMORROW DA SKITTLES (fentanyl pills) ARRIVE AT (an address in Cleveland) AROUND NOON. WE GOTTA GET PAPER (money) ASAP SO WE CAN PAY EVERYBODY UP,” according to the indictment.
Later that day, Lozano and Franklin discussed via text the arrival of 5,000 fentanyl pills and that they needed to pay $27,500 for the drugs, according to the indictment.
On April 29, 2019, Lozano and Hernandez spoke by phone. Lozano explained he had recruited a driver who entered the U.S from Mexico and would drive drugs from San Diego to Cleveland, according to the indictment.
Lozano, on April 26, 2019, had a discussion by phone with another person about how strong Lozano wanted the fentanyl pills to be on a scale of one to ten. Lozano requested the pills by about an eight or nine, stating he did not want any “issues” (overdoses), according to the indictment.
Franklin, on June 16, 2019, had a conversation with an unidentified woman who asked Franklin why he wanted to be near Union Avenue. Franklin responded: “I sell drugs out there on Union. I sell drugs. I make my money on Union. That’s [what] I do on Union.” He later continued, “I sell (expletive) drugs! I’ve been selling drugs since 1992! I’ve been [at] the same (expletive) spot since 1992,” according to the indictment.
If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation. In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than the maximum.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Cleveland Heights Police Department, Lake County Narcotics Drug Task Force, Cleveland Division of Police, Euclid Police Department, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Marshal Service and Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Morrison.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. The OCDETF Program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking, money laundering and violent criminal organizations operating domestically and internationally. The principle mission of the OCDETF Program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, money laundering and violent criminal organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.