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Press Release

Co-leader of large-scale narcotics & human trafficking ring pleads guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A leader in a case with 23 defendants involved in narcotics and human trafficking conspiracies pleaded guilty in federal court here today to drug, gun, human trafficking, and money laundering crimes.

From 2008 until June 2022, Cordell Washington, 37, of Pickerington, ran a large-scale drug trafficking organization in Columbus with co-defendant Patrick Saultz. Their operations also included sex trafficking, labor trafficking, fraud and money laundering.

A multi-agency law enforcement task force initially announced the case in July 2022 after a federal grand jury indicted 11 defendants for distributing bulk amounts of fentanyl, cocaine and crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a Columbus elementary school. In October 2022, the government added 12 defendants and 28 new charges. 

Court documents detail that the drug trafficking organization brought large quantities of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, alprazolam and marijuana into Columbus. These drugs were sold or used to coerce individuals into sexual activity for some members of the drug ring and their profit.

It is alleged that Saultz began distributing heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine from his residences on Vida Place and South Hague Street in Columbus as early as 2008. The drug trafficking organization sold drugs out of more than 20 Columbus residences to customers and distributed larger amounts to regional drug traffickers who then trafficked those narcotics to places such as West Virginia and the Northern District of Ohio.

Most of the alleged drug dealing took place within 1000 feet of Burroughs Elementary School in Columbus at a residence on South Burgess. For example, one of Washington and Saultz’s numerous subordinates sold approximately $18,000 worth of narcotics per day from the location on South Burgess.

The case also involves the overdose death of at least one individual and the violent death of a second victim.

As part of his plea, Washington admitted to labor trafficking male drug addicts. The defendant provided the men with their drug of choice after the men completed construction or cleaning projects at residences owned by the drug trafficking organization. The men were recruited by Washington and some completed the work for him under serious threat of harm.

Washington would provide the addicts with advances on small amounts of drugs so they were well enough to perform physical labor. If Washington was not pleased with their work product, he would not complete the final drug payment and would threaten violence against them.

Washington used numerous methods to launder the group’s drug trafficking proceeds, including establishing front businesses that purported to be rental, repair and construction companies.

Washington pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possessing with intent to distribute controlled substances within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, labor trafficking and concealment money laundering. He faces a mandatory minimum of at least 15 years and up to life in prison.

As part of this case, local, state, and federal law enforcement officers have executed more than 20 search warrants at various locations throughout Central Ohio and seized more than $1.7 million in alleged drug proceeds. For example, while executing a search warrant at Car-Go storage units, law enforcement officials discovered approximately one million in bulk United States currency. Searches of additional residences yielded 47 firearms, diamonds, Rolex watches and additional bulk amounts of cash.

As of today, 21 of the 23 defendants have pleaded guilty. One defendant, Carmella Brooks, has been sentenced and received a term of imprisonment of five years.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker commended the investigation coordinated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes Columbus Division of Police Chief Elaine Bryant; Shawn Gibson, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations; and Orville O. Greene, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Other agencies that have assisted the task force with the investigation include the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, HIDTA Task Force, IRS-Criminal Investigation, FBI, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), Ohio National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, Pickerington Police Department, New Albany Police Department, and the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office SWAT Team.

Assistant United States Attorneys Timothy Prichard and Emily Czerniejewski are representing the United States in this case.

This investigation 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. More information about OCDETF can be found at

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Updated April 8, 2024

Human Trafficking
Drug Trafficking