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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Ohio

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Three Charged in Drug Trafficking Conspiracy that Distributed Over 1,100 Pounds of Cocaine in the Cleveland Area

Federal law enforcement officials today announced the arrest of three men charged in a 30-count indictment for their roles in a drug trafficking conspiracy that is alleged to have brought over 500 kilograms, or approximately 1,100 pounds, of cocaine from Mexico to be redistributed in the Cleveland area. 

“Drug trafficking organizations target communities like Cleveland because they mistakenly assume nobody is paying attention,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler.  “To those drug traffickers, both foreign and domestic, who think that our communities and neighborhoods here in Northern Ohio are open for your businesses – know that we are watching, we are paying attention, we will act  and we will not stand for it.”

“Thanks to the professionalism and diligence of the agents and officers working this case, we have disrupted an organization that coordinated not only the delivery of significant amounts of cocaine into Cleveland, but the delivery of drug proceeds into the hands of their Mexican source of supply,” said Kent R. Kleinschmidt, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Detroit Field Division.  “These arrests are a testament to the coordinated efforts between state, local and federal law enforcement.  We will continue to maximize all of our combined resources to bring those who traffic drugs into our communities to justice.”

Arrested today and charged in the indictment are Christopher Ficklin, 49, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and Robert Atkinson, 41, of Cleveland, Ohio.  Additionally charged in the indictment as part of the drug trafficking organization is David Gomez-Orrantia, 41, of Mexico.  Gomez-Orrantia was arrested on March 11, 2022.  Other members of the organization remain at large.

Each member of the drug trafficking organization is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.  Members of the drug trafficking organization are also charged with various additional counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, distribution of cocaine, international money laundering and use of a communications facility to facilitate a felony drug offense.  Defendant Ficklin is also charged as a felon in possession of a firearm. 

According to the indictment, around June of 2020,  Gomez-Orrantia and others shipped kilogram quantities of cocaine from Mexico to a warehouse controlled by defendant Ficklin on Carnegie Avenue in the city of Cleveland.  The indictment states that Ficklin then redistributed the drugs to Atkinson and others to be further redistributed throughout the area.

It is alleged that the conspirators used trucks and vehicles fitted with traps and hidden compartments to store the cocaine when it was transported to the city.  After the drugs were delivered, it is alleged that members of the conspiracy then transported drug trafficking proceeds back to Mexico using the same vehicles and hidden compartments and documented the transactions in a hand-written ledger.

Furthermore, the indictment charges members of the conspiracy with using multiple cell phones and coded terminology in an attempt to conceal their activity.

In total, it is alleged that the drug trafficking organization shipped over 1,100 pounds of cocaine from Mexico to be distributed in the Cleveland area and sent approximately 13 million in drug trafficking proceeds back to Mexico.

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.

If convicted, each 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 effort was 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 https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

The investigation preceding the indictment was conducted by the DEA, Cleveland Heights Police Department, Cuyahoga County Sherriff’s Office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.  Additional assistance was provided by the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, DEA – El Paso, Customes Border Patrol (CBP) Sandusky Bay Border Patrol Intelligence, CBP – El Paso and the Lorain County Drug Taskforce.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J.  Kolansky.  

Attachment(s): 
Topic(s): 
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Drug Trafficking
Component(s): 
Contact: 
Daniel Ball Daniel.Ball@usdoj.gov
Updated March 15, 2022