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Press Release

Eight Defendants Arrested In Early Morning Drug Roundup, Charged In Transnational Drug Trafficking Ring

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of New York

CONTACT: Barbara Burns
PHONE: (716) 843-5817
FAX #: (716) 551-3051

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that six defendants have been charged by complaint and two other defendants indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a transnational drug trafficking ring that stretched from Mexico to Buffalo.

Charged by complaint with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute, and distributing, controlled substances are:

• Ronnie Charleston;
• Robert Claiborne;
• Antoine Gilbert;
• Tonie Wiley;
• Aaron Spain Jr.; and
• Eric Hale, A/K/A Cuz E.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

Charged by indictment with narcotics conspiracy and possessing with intent to distribute crack cocaine and cocaine are:

• Saan Thompson, A/K/A Duke; and
• Louis Gilbert.

Thompson and Gilbert face a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison, a maximum of 40 years, and $5,000,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura A. Higgins, who is handling the case, stated that according to the criminal complaint and the indictment, the defendants are accused of being part of a drug trafficking ring that stretched from Mexico to Buffalo. The organization is accused of moving bulk quantities of cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl into the Western New York area. It is believed the organization’s Buffalo-based operation is headed by David    Burgin and David Washington, who were previously arrested on drug conspiracy charges in February 2020. Burgin and Washington used a network of distributors to sell narcotics in the Western New York area, as well as several out of state sources of supply for cocaine and heroin. David Washington supplied Saan Thompson with narcotics in Buffalo. Thompson then sold the narcotics to the other defendants for re-distribution. The investigation included multiple intercepted communications between the defendants. 

During the execution of four search warrants this morning at four locations, investigators seized a kilogram of suspected cocaine; 40 grams of suspected crack cocaine packaged for distribution; multiple pounds of marijuana; a loaded handgun; 1500 rounds of assorted ammunition; pistol magazines; and approximately $27,000 in cash.  

“This case is a tremendous example of the determination of our law enforcement partners to continue to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” stated U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “Investigators did not stop when the leaders of this dangerous drug trafficking organization were previously apprehended and taken off the streets. Investigative efforts continued leading to the charging of eight additional defendants in this case.”   

“Today’s arrests and seizures represent a critical disruption to an international drug trafficking ring,” said Kevin Kelly, Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigation Buffalo. “I would like to thank the law enforcement personnel at all levels of government whose hard work and collaboration led to today’s results. HSI and our partners will continue efforts to increase community safety through the dismantlement of this drug trafficking organization.”

Defendants Saan Thompson and Louis Gilbert were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. and detained. Defendants Aaron Spain and Ronnie Charleston made an initial appearance also before Judge Schroeder and were also detained. Defendants Robert Claiborne, Antoine Gilbert, Tonie Wiley, and Eric Hale, made initial appearances and were released on conditions.

The criminal complaint and indictment are the result of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; the Federal Bureau of Investigation Safe Streets Task Force,  under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen Belongia; the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy Howard; the Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Commissioner Byron Lockwood; the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan, New York Field Division; the New York State Police, under the direction of Major James Hall; and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent-in-Charge, New York Field Office.   

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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Updated August 5, 2020

Drug Trafficking